After the failure comes the brave talk: President Trump declares war on the House Freedom Caucus and tweets out that “Anybody (especially Fake News media) who thinks that Repeal & Replace of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in R Party.”
Actually, there isn’t much evidence there’s a lot of either love or strength in the GOP these days. But, since making predictions is a dicey proposition in the Trump era, it’s possible that the Trump-Ryan bill is merely mostly dead, rather than thoroughly demised.
Even so, the focus on the recalcitrant Freedom Caucus misses five major dynamics that seem unlikely to change: (1) the House GOP healthcare bill was killed not just by hardline conservatives, but also by moderates, (2) whatever happens in the House, it is still DOA in the Senate, (3) only 17 percent of Americans think it’s a good idea, (4) Republicans have never before succeeded in repealing or dramatically changing a middle-class entitlement once it has been implemented, and (5) Trump himself remains woefully ignorant of the details of the bill and largely indifferent to the policy itself.
Meanwhile, Trump is embroiled in multiple investigations, chronic chaos and dysfunction, and has an approval rating of around 35 percent, a number that does not incentivize Democrats to bail him out or Republicans to quail in fear of his displeasure.
In this environment, passing healthcare legislation is the political equivalent of a Rubik’s cube and there is no indication that the feat is being attempted by geniuses. Mark Twain (or perhaps Abraham Maslow) once noted that “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Trump is a man with a Twitter account, who thinks every problem can be solved with a tweet.
The result is a case study in political incoherence. In the days following the humiliating failure on healthcare, Trump World (led by Breitbart) waged a bizarre two-front war, simultaneously attacking both Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (who supported the bill) and the conservatives who opposed it (because they had defied the president).
It’s hard to see how this ends well, because for his presidency to succeed, Trump needs his base united behind him. By lashing out at fellow Republicans he is picking exactly the wrong fight.
This has also created a dilemma for the shills: Trump-friendly media outlets faced a painful (and yet somehow familiar) choice of siding with Trump or the conservative groups who they have championed for years. (Sean Hannity’s contortions have been a wonder to behold.)But this isn’t all Trump’s fault. The truth is that the GOP healthcare bill died from pre-existing conditions.
Long before Trump descended the golden escalator and announced his presidential bid, the right had become dominated by a perpetual outrage machine, roiling the already unsettled waters of political anger and alienation on the Right. Republicans, who had become adept at opposition politics, often played along, repeatedly over-promising their ability to roll back Obama-era policies.
Ironically, this helped give us Trump, despite his ideological incompatibility with many of the conservative groups pushing for more ideological purity. So, not surprisingly, his election didn’t solve the GOP’s internal problems, especially since it is hard to flip from shrill oppositionalism to the more mundane business of actual governance.
It did not help that the legislation, with its massive tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor and middle class, seemed to be a product of what Bill Kristol colorfully calls “zombie conservatism.”
The result is that the GOP options range from bad to horrible:
- They can try to push it through the House, only to watch it die in the Senate and create an electoral nightmare in 2018.
- They can move on to the rest of the GOP agenda, and hope that the public blames Democrats for the continuing failures of Obamacare. But this means abandoning a promise that Republicans have made for more than 7 years.
- Trump can administratively undermine Obamacare. But, the iron rule here is that if you broke it, you own it.
- As unlikely as it may be, Trump could also try to work with the Democrats on a compromise. But, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has made quite clear, any deal requires the GOP to give up any plans to repeal or weaken Obamacare. In other words, the price of compromise is unilateral surrender. That would mean that the GOP would simply break its promise and fail to repeal the law, it would mean that Trump (and the GOP) would explicitly embrace and ratify Obamacare.
- Finally, Trump could return to the faith of his youth and move hard-left, embracing single-payer. A leading pro-Trump intellectual, F. H. Buckley, is now urging Trump to do precisely that.
Short of a full-on meltdown of his presidency, it’s hard to envision Trump making such a radical move. But what it lacks in plausibility, it would more than make up in the entertainment value of watching Limbaugh, Coulter, and Hannity try to spin it.