In the midst of a debate that is tearing the Republican Party apart, Donald Trump this morning yelled the equivalent of “Squirrel!” And like the dogs in the movie “Up!” progressive twitter quickly turned its attention away from health care to the latest presidential outrage.

Today’s diversion is Trump’s announcement that he wants to ban transgender people from serving in the military. It’s a no loser for Trump. His base will certainly support the action. Social conservatives will view it as a firm stand against changing social norms that have been in place for centuries. The people who already think he’s unfit to serve will howl louder, ensuring supporters of the ban taunt them even more on social media.

Trump is hoping to shift their focus away from health care and Russia, if just temporarily, to further divide the country. He knows the tumult that HB2 caused in North Carolina and, last night, the Texas senate passed a bill that mirrors the one that caused so much controversy here. Announcing his ban this morning just adds fuel to the fire, providing the distraction he’s seeking. To Trump, unity is the enemy. Enmity is the goal.

A White House insider believes Trump’s move is also smart political calculous for the long run. “This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of the issue. How will blue-collar voters in these states respond when Senators up for re-election in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns.” In other words, Trump is using transgender people as a political football.

Progressives on twitter point to the outcome of the governor’s election here to illustrate the folly of the president’s move. Roy Cooper beat Pat McCrory because of HB2, not in spite of it. That said, the issue was as much economic here as it was social, but, still, beating up on transgender people didn’t do much to build a winning a coalition for McCrory.

In the short term, the ploy might work. If the bashing transgender people distracts from the attention to the health care debate, Trump and the Republicans might gain some breathing room in pushing through some sort of repeal. Progressives need to stay focused on the task at hand. They can protest the move to discriminate against transgender people later but they can’t stop it now. That’s not true of the health care repeal bills. Action today and this week could have a major impact on the outcome of the current debate in Congress.


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