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President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

That was quite the week for the 2020 presidential race.

The impeachment proceedings in Washington were an adrenaline shot for the bases on both sides with their alternate-universe views on whether President Donald Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into helping him in the election. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the principal object of Trump's affections, got dragged into the hearings, his inevitable fate, over the involvement of his son Hunter in a Ukrainian gas company.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders seemed to bury publicly their "women-can't-win-the-presidency" hatchet before taking a timeout as impeachment jurors. Michael Bloomberg continued his inexorable rise in polling as his unprecedented spending spree dents the consciousness of voters; the former New York City mayor is now third among Democratic contenders in the online betting market PredictIt. And new national polling from CNN-SSRS showed every top Democratic candidate leading Trump, with Biden and Bloomberg holding the largest margins at 9 percentage points each.

But none of that is the reason it was a really big week for the election.

The big moment came 4,000 miles away in the little ski town of Davos, Switzerland, which hosts the annual World Economic Forum. Trump, answering a question from a CNBC reporter, said that cuts to entitlements will be on the table "at some point" if he wins in November. Entitlements, of course, include Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, the latter of which Trump mentioned specifically. And with that, he touched the proverbial third rail of politics, an experience that has left many others with sixth-degree burns.

Not only did Trump say it once, he repeated it even after being reminded that he would be reneging on his 2016 campaign promise to protect entitlements. Then he said cutting entitlement spending would be "the easiest of all things." That, at least, both sides can agree is absurd.

Whether the president felt heat from aghast advisers or perturbed voters, he tried to back off the next day by claiming in an utterly untruthful tweet that "Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security" and added that he "will save it!"

Video, however, lives forever so expect his Davos remarks to be replayed often in the fall. And they might play well with a substantial portion of Trump's base. Republicans, after all, have lusted for entitlement cuts for generations. Party stalwarts have pushed Trump to start hacking. And his administration has already nibbled at the edges of the safety net — Social Security spending cuts in his latest budget proposal, last year's executive order that fully implemented would weaken Medicare's finances. Whether Trump's remarks play well with independents and party members heavily dependent on Social Security earnings is another matter.

The other big piece of weekly news was that the Supreme Court declined to hear a quick appeal of a lower court decision that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Democrats wanted a prompt ruling but Republicans sought a delay in a case they've been pushing. That's because while they want to end Obamacare, they have nothing with which to replace it. And they know they've lost on health care before, most spectacularly in the 2018 midterms. By not taking the case now, the Supreme Court stokes the agita for people who like and depend on Obamacare, and it lets Democrats point to the looming menace.

Impeachment will play a role for both sides in November, but perhaps not as much as the one played by threats to Social Security and health care. When you propose to cut entitlements or mess with health care, you're entitled to the fate that finds you.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.


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