Trump invokes MIT's Gruber in presidential debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump roused the ire of economics professor Jonathan H. Gruber ’87 by using the latter as a tool to attack the Affordable Care Act.

“You know that, because Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare, was said — he said it was a great lie, it was a big lie,” Trump stuttered at the debate, invoking Gruber’s name in front of an estimated 66 million television viewers.

Trump was referring to on-camera comments that Gruber made in which he said that it was lack of transparency that helped the Affordable Care Act pass.

“I’d rather have this law than not,” Gruber said in the 2013 video taken at an academic conference, explaining that the alleged lack of transparency might be a necessary evil in order to allow the act to pass political muster.

Gruber no longer stands by his comments and told The Tech that Donald Trump did not characterize his view properly.

“I made a glib comment about the political process behind the passage of the ACA,” he wrote in an email. “The comments were thoughtless and inaccurate and did not in any way properly reflect the enormously transparent process by which the ACA was passed.”

Gruber was watching the debate live, but said he was so focused on the substance it took a minute for him to process that Trump had mentioned him during a presidential debate.

When it hit him, he said, he was torn between anger over his name being taken in vain and excitement that so many millions of people had heard his name.

“I received a lot of supportive emails from family and friends,” Gruber said, reflecting on the reaction of those close to him.

In an apologetic written testimony that Gruber sent to the U.S. House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2014, Gruber wrote that “It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others.”

Asked if Trump should let that apology be a lesson to him, Gruber said he thinks “that is the least of the lessons that Trump needs.”

Gruber, who doesn’t usually bother watching debates since he says they don’t often provide new information, found this year’s sufficiently important since Trump is the least politically experienced person to run for president in his lifetime.

With such an inexperienced candidate, he said, it’s especially important that voters scrutinize his temperament, judgement, and intellectual abilities.

Gruber said that Trump “abjectly failed in the first debate” and “doubled down” in the second debate. He criticized Trump as having “no understanding of policy issues” and said he showed “no common decency or respect for the democratic institutions that make our nation so great.”

While this is the first time Gruber was mentioned during a presidential debate, it is not the first time his name has been in the mass media.

The media latched onto the 2013 video, setting off a firestorm dubbed “Grubergate.” That video likely gained much of its traction due to Gruber’s referring to “the stupidity of the American people,” though the context of that particular phrase suggested he may have been using it in jest.