I feel for this guy the way I feel for all jilted suitors. For months he sent the president flowers, candy, love notes — and in the end he got ruthlessly friendzoned. Politics, like love, is a rough business.
Bad news for Brooks: The primary’s just four days away and Trump’s endorsement of Strange is less than 72 hours old. It would be total insanity for the president to turn on a dime in a fit of pique at McConnell, retract his endorsement of Mitch’s preferred candidate, and throw in with Brooks instead. The good news for Brooks: Trump being Trump, the odds can’t be any worse than 50/50 that he’ll do exactly that.
Trump watched clips of McConnell criticizing him on the news and wasn’t happy. In a terse but loud conversation Wednesday, the president made clear he wasn’t to blame for the Obamacare failure and was displeased with the criticism he’s gotten for it. McConnell didn’t give any ground, said people briefed on the phone call, and there are no immediate plans to speak again…
Meanwhile, McConnell’s advisers have been amazed at the president’s unwillingness to sell the health care bill publicly, his lack of policy knowledge, his seemingly unending appetite for chaos and his inability to control warring factions of aides, who complicate delicate negotiations by saying different things to different people.
Is it time, as Brooks says below, for Senate Republicans to tell McConnell “You’re fired”? Even Trump skeptics like me have sided with the president, more or less, in his argument with McConnell over who bears more blame for repeal’s failure. All of the gripes from Team Mitch are true — Trump doesn’t seem to know anything about health-care policy, appears uninterested in learning, and limits his sporadic public sales pitches to reassurances that the bill will be “really terrific, believe me. So terrific you’ll wonder if you can handle this much terrificness.” Yet the fact remains that he and Ryan have had seven years to get their ducks in a row. Anti-Trumper Kevin Williamson wonders, as I did yesterday, how McConnell could have failed to get something to Trump’s desk knowing that the president will sign literally anything in the name of notching a political win.
The wily McConnell and the steadfast Ryan were fine and effective opposition leaders. But they are not in the opposition any more. McConnell has been the Senate majority leader since January 3, 2015. Paul Ryan has passed through a series of senior leadership posts since 2011: chairman of the Budget Committee, chairman of Ways and Means, speaker of the House. They have had a long time to get their legislative acts together. Of course, it would be easier to forge consensus if they had a president who knew or cared about the substance of the policy questions before them, but in the absence of such a president, it falls to the legislative leaders to do what needs doing. The British dumped Winston Churchill after the war, considering him a wartime leader unsuited to the needs of peacetime. If McConnell and Ryan do not want to be considered opposition leaders — and if the Republican party does not want to be considered an opposition party incapable of government — then now is the time to give us all reason to think otherwise.
There’s no reason to think otherwise. It is an opposition party now, to its core. “Repeal!” was a slogan that the party’s leadership took seriously only so long as Obama was ready with a veto to bail them out of their pretend efforts to make it happen. The GOP’s nature as a fundamentally oppositional institution may also explain Trump’s instinct to pick public fights even with allies like Jeff Sessions and McConnell. There’s no Obama to rail against anymore; Hillary Clinton is still a presence on Hannity’s show every night but pretty much nowhere else. The president and his movement need something to oppose. If it’s not the ineffectual establishmentarian McConnell thwarting Trump and feeding his sense of grievance, it’s the populist-nationalist Sessions. Every major player in the party will eventually get a turn until Democrats are back in power somewhere and can serve as a lightning rod for the whole GOP.
Note, by the way, how Brooks targets the filibuster in his anti-McConnell messaging. That’s designed to ingratiate him to Trump, obviously, as Trump’s complained about the 60-vote rule on Twitter, but even if Trump pipes down about it we may see more insurgent Republican candidates take up abolishing the filibuster as a rallying cry. That’s terribly short-sighted but it aligns them with the president and his base against establishment incumbents who mostly favor keeping the rule in place. In a few years there may be a significant minority of Senate Republicans who, for reasons of genuine conviction or to stay on the good side of grassroots righties, agree that it’s time for the filibuster to go.