In the past week, two news items came out of the Trump White House that should trouble supporters of the President’s populist agenda, and should send warning bells about the advice that President Trump may be receiving from his inner circle.
The first was the bewildering lovefest between Trump and tech titans such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Eric Schmidt of Alphabet, and Ginni Rometti of IBM. During this meeting, Trump apparently sounded out Bezos, Schmidt, and Rometti, among others, on ideas not only on how to modernize White House tech, but also on their favored policies generally. Unsurprisingly, immigration came up, and Trump even sounded bizarrely apologetic notes about the American Healthcare Act (AHCA).
This may be nothing but Machiavellian diplomacy, but one has to wonder why on earth Trump would even bother going that far. Let’s not forget that Bezos, Schmidt, and Rometti alone are among the least trustworthy people possible for Trump to rely on. Bezos, for example, has transformed the Washington Post into a stenographer for Deep State hacks peddling hit pieces. His business practices are anti-market and monopolistic in the worst way, not just because of Amazon’s dubious purchase of Whole Foods, but also because it has abused the patent system to create property rights over technology that would violate the Sherman Antitrust Act just by existing. Schmidt’s company, meanwhile, is both a front of anti-Trump propaganda and a shameless censor of Trumpian opinions, and its executives openly advertise this bias. And as for Rometti? She’s already lied to Trump’s face before knifing him in the back once, and will almost certainly do so again.
So needless to say, having a love-in with the absolute worst of the tech industry was one odd move for the administration to take, but what was the other? Answer: the news that President Trump’s long-awaited proposed fixes to high drug prices will likely amount to a gift for the pharmaceutical industry. While Trump openly campaigned on holding pharmaceutical execs’ feet to the fire, it seems that the people actually tasked with coming up with his policy have been captured by the bought-and-paid for a Pharma-friendly approach of Conservatism, Inc.
Based on a report by Politico, the “reforms” that the administration is considering will take absolutely no steps to curb drug prices directly. In fact, they may even drive them higher by, for instance, limiting the scope of the 340B drug pricing program, which requires pharmaceutical company to sell drugs at an affordable price to hospitals and clinics that serve very high low-income populations as a condition for being reimbursed by Medicaid and Medicare. Even the one bright spot in the proposed package — the speeding up of approval for generic drugs — is blunted by the fact that the administration may permit Pharma to amend its patents to more easily shut out competition.
Not only do these kinds of policies fly in the face of the populist spirit that Trump campaigned on, and his promise to apply his hardline negotiating skills to drive down drug prices, but they also place him (again) in the awkward position of doing favors for people who he has no reason to trust. Let’s not forget that the pharmaceutical industry spent more money supporting Hillary Clinton during 2016 than it did on any other candidate in either party. Trump barely even registered on the radar. And to add insult to injury, Pharma aggressively lobbied for Obamacare. Some of the most conservative members of the Republican caucus, including both #NeverTrump figures like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), former Trump opponents like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and hardcore Trump supporters like Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) apparently noticed this and have since supported or introduced legislation to hold the industry to account. Yet somehow, on pharma as well as tech, the White House is still willing to roll out the red carpet for people who treated the President of the United States with contempt during his campaign.
During the Presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump observed that “I trust people too much.” That flaw seems to be making itself manifest. One hopes that, as with so much else, the President will learn quickly enough to correct what could be fatal mistakes.