So, for seven long years the Republicans pledged to repeal Obamacare. Conservatives across the country elected them to a massive majority in the House. Then they elected them to a slim majority in the Senate. Then they elected President Trump, who stated over and over again that he would repeal Obamacare.
And then Republicans couldn’t even get a vote through the House on repealing and replacing Obamacare. After three weeks — THREE WEEKS! — of actual work on this key issue, Republicans surrendered to the reality of Obamacare.
Here was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan today:
Here are the takeaways.
1. The Gap Between Trumpism and Conservatism Isn’t Easily Bridged. After Trump won, there was a widespread sentiment among the chattering class on the right that victory could paper over ideological differences between Trumpian “nationalist populism” – a bizarre agglomeration of tariffs and tax cuts, regulatory cuts and spending increases, isolationism and militarism – and conservatism. Those differences burst out again when it came to policy making, for one very simple reason: Trump made a lot of promises that Republicans couldn’t keep, because they weren’t conservative promises. Speaker Ryan, in an attempt to give Trump what he wanted and give conservatives what they wanted, gave nobody what they wanted. And Republicans refused to simply repeal Obamacare rather than attempting to pass a godawful replacement package – in large measure because Trump would rather have Obamacare exist than sign onto a repeal of Obamacare that left Trump to fill the gaps.
2. Trump’s Bullying Does Not Work. Trump was the “closer,” according to Ryan and company. Trump took to Twitter to badger House conservatives. He cudgeled Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) publicly and deployed Mike Pence to his home state. He targeted specific members of Congress during meetings on the Hill. Then he sent Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus to try the same tactics. Conservatives turned him down flat. That’s because Trump has no electoral coattails – at least not in heavy red districts where constituents aren’t interested in Obamacare-lite.
3. Trump Has No Tuchus. Trump wanted his bill, and he wanted it this week. NOW. He wouldn’t sit still for months of negotiation. He wouldn’t let Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hammer something passable out. He wanted something done, he wanted it now, or he would take his ball and go home. As late as this afternoon, the White House was proclaiming that they wanted an up-or-down vote, and only when it became clear that they wouldn’t break 200 votes did Ryan apparently beg the White House for the capacity to pull the bill. Trump today: “I’m glad I got it out of the way.” It’s not out of the way. It was a failure. What in the hell is he talking about? This doesn’t bode well for the future. Most hard-fought legislative victories are hard-fought. They don’t materialize overnight. And they’re not Gordian knots waiting for a Trumpian master to cut them with his sword of policy ignorance.
4. Trump Could Easily Turn Left On Health Care. Conservatives can’t sit around and wait for Trump to lead them to the promised land. It’s not going to happen. Trump is the one who set an artificial deadline on Trumpcare. Now, Trump is saying that he will wait for Obamacare to implode, then look to use that as leverage against Democrats. But there’s an unspoken assumption there: Democrats will work with establishment Republicans to do stuff Trump wants. He’s not turning right – he’s not attempting to use Obamacare’s collapse to get the House Freedom Caucus in line. He’s looking for bipartisan support. This was the most right-wing bill Trump would have allowed, presumably – and he wouldn’t allow much. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that as Obamacare fails, Democrats approach Trump with plans for a public option. Scary, but plausible, given Trump’s campaign promises – and given his fondness for artificially creating false binary choices, as this fiasco demonstrates. This means it’s up to Congress to pass conservative legislation and then hold Trump’s feet to the fire. Good luck.
If Republicans think that all of these issues will disappear as soon as they get into tax reform, they’ve got another think coming. Trump is closer to them on tax reform than he was on health care, to be certain, but there are still some major differences. How will Trump react when the press start smacking him for supposedly giving tax cuts to the rich? How will Congress react when Trump starts giving away lollipops to political constituencies he seeks to woo? And how will demoralized Republicans be kept in line for all of this, after Trump’s first major initiative went down in flaming defeat?