It’s one thing to play hardball, it another to play hardball with your own party, it’s yet something else to play hardball with your own party while they’re still trying to reach a deal among themselves on the toughest vote they’ll take all year.
They’re going for the jugular too by targeting Heller. He’s the single most vulnerable Republican senator on the ballot next fall, the lone GOPer seeking reelection in a state won by Hillary Clinton. If there’s anyone the White House should want to lay off for fear of souring local Republican voters on him, it’s him. And yet:
After a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller of Nevada when he said he opposed the bill, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange…
Josh Holmes, Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff, said, “That the White House is asking people to take a tough vote and then running ads against members while we’re still in negotiations is so dumb it’s amazing we even have to have the conversation.”…
The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First. Mr. Trump’s allies were furious that the senator would join Gov. Brian Sandoval, who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, to blast the bill.
No doubt it did have the blessing of the White House. America First Policies, the Super PAC, is crawling with former Trump and Pence advisors — Brad Parscale, Nick Ayers, Rick Gates, David Bossie, and Katrina Pierson. Despite McConnell’s complaint, they’re still full speed ahead on the ads. In fact, their radio ads are even harsher:
“…[N]ow with the leadership of President Trump, we have a real chance to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered care that protects American families and provides health care stability,” it says. “But Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is saying ‘No.’ ‘No’ to tax cuts to help small business, ‘No’ to ending Obamacare penalties, and ‘No’ to families who can’t afford to see the doctor of their choice.”
The strangest thing about targeting Heller is that, more than any other declared Republican opponent of the Senate health-care bill, he shares Trump’s concerns about ObamaCare’s replacement being too “mean” with not enough “heart.” Paul, Lee, Cruz, and Ron Johnson all object to the bill because it doesn’t do enough to roll back O-Care; Heller objects that it does too much by cutting Medicaid and too little to lower premiums. He’s closer to the populist center of gravity than conservative opponents are, yet he’s the first holdout being slapped by Trump’s de facto Super PAC. How come? Why not muscle the conservatives to accept a more populist bill than try to muscle Heller? Granted, Paul, Lee, and Johnson are all freshly reelected. But Cruz isn’t.
Something to chew on before you watch:
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) June 27, 2017
That risk is worth taking if you think the ad campaign is likely to get Heller to flip from no to yes. But if it isn’t — if it’s more likely to piss him off or, at best, not to matter to his calculations that he can’t afford to support what’s likely to be a highly unpopular bill, then why damage him for no reason? It reminds me of Trump allegedly needing to be talked out of demanding a floor vote in the House in March on Paul Ryan’s health-care bill knowing full well that the bill would fail. Forcing congressmen to cast a tough vote on the bill would only end up hurting them but Trump seemed to like the idea of causing them a little pain to pay them back for the humiliation of handing him a political defeat. (He eventually relented and no floor vote was held.) Maybe the goal here is the same, not to flip Heller but to let him know that he’s going to get punched from the right if he ends up voting no even if he doesn’t end up getting punched from the left.
Update: Actually, apologies to Mike Lee. His concerns with the bill are plenty populist too.
Update: Is the Super PAC having second thoughts?