He’s right, to a point. The Republican ship has been sailing the seas of health-care reform without a captain thanks partly to Trump’s apparent total disinterest in what a final bill should look like. But it ain’t Trump who spent the last seven years touting repeal-and-replace as the most urgent priority for the party and the country, as McConnell and the GOP have. And Trump’s disengagement from the nuts and bolts of health-care policy left McConnell and Ryan with a freer hand over legislation than congressional leaders under most presidents enjoy. They could have written any bill they wanted and the president would have signed it; they’ve had since 2011 to forge a consensus on the right to guide them in writing that bill. They failed. A more popular president with clearer ideas about what he wanted from health insurance would have helped McConnell wrangle votes by twisting arms, but it’s embarrassing for McConnell at this stage to be whining about “excessive expectations” in getting repeal passed. The hard fact is that the House and Senate GOP weren’t prepared to undertake this effort in a serious way, full stop.
I continue not to understand why Trump wants to fight over it, though. Newt doesn’t understand either, knowing that a rift on the right can only mean bad things for the midterms.
Apparently there was an “animated conversation” between the two:
A source tells @DanaBashCNN that Trump and McConnell's "animated conversation" happened while he was on the golf course yesterday.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 10, 2017
Trump went a step further and pushed this into Jeff Sessions territory early this afternoon:
PRESS: Should Mitch step down? TRUMP: If he doesn't get repeal done, and taxes and infrastructure, "then you can ask me that question."
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 10, 2017
If Trump has no strategy in pursuing this feud beyond shifting blame for the repeal failure to the Senate, the same may not be true of McConnell:
I asked someone familiar with McConnell’s thinking how to interpret the senator’s relatively blunt assessment of Trump and the White House’s mistakes on Obamacare repeal. What this is likely about, I’m told, is setting the stage for tax reform—on the Senate’s terms, processes, and guidelines, not the White House’s. After all, McConnell has a narrow majority to deal with. President Trump both failed to mount any kind of public campaign on behalf of Obamacare repeal and actively antagonized the on-the-margin senators McConnell needed to get on board. McConnell’s message to his president, knocked on his heels after a major legislative defeat, is “This time, we’ll do it my way.”
That’s from Michael Warren, who wonders if Trump’s antagonism towards congressional Republicans is a prelude to him going independent before 2020. I’ve wondered that myself lately. Strategically it’s a terrible idea as it would dissolve the partisan loyalty that some GOP voters feel for him; a right-wing base divided between the president and a Republican nominee is a recipe for Democratic victory. Trump will probably content himself to remain nominally Republican for that reason, keeping him in line for the nomination, while signaling his de facto independence in various ways, one of which is the McConnell feud.
Another possibility is him backing a primary challenger to Jeff Flake in Arizona, a move that would make the Senate GOP go berserk but which Trump’s base would love as he’d be taking the fight to a harsh critic. It may be that Trump’s surprising endorsement of Luther Strange, McConnell’s favored candidate, in the Alabama Senate primary is a hedge made in preparation of him backing Kelli Ward or some other insurgent against Flake. Once he does that and he’s inevitably accused of triggering a party schism, he can point back to the Strange endorsement as rebuttal evidence. I’m a loyal party guy in most circumstances, Trump will say. But when a Republican is ostentatiously disloyal to me, I’ll repay the favor. Taking out Flake would poison his relationship with McConnell and Senate Republicans but it might also scare them into line. Trying to take out Flake and failing in a state where Flake’s approval numbers are dismal would poison his relationship with the Senate GOP but also embolden them to resist him, proving that Trump has less influence over Republican primary voters than everyone assumes. That’s a big gamble for the president. My guess is he’ll maintain a safe distance from the Arizona race while having allies like Robert Mercer try to blow Flake up.