In an article titled, The Looming Republican Disgrace, National Review’s Rich Lowry puts forth an argument which is based on the premise that a failure to repeal Obamacare – and time may be running out to do it – will mean the bitter end of a short lived period of GOP supremacy. Looked at through the lens of the repeal effort as the signature promise of Republicans for the past three election cycles, some of his arguments are tough to bat down. Much of it comes down to weaknesses in key leaders which were perhaps left unexposed until the recent deadlock among the majority on this question.
The establishment is right that Trump is incapable of true legislative leadership. The Trumpists are right that the establishment is ineffectual. Conservatives are right that moderates don’t really want to repeal Obamacare, whatever they’ve said in the past. And pragmatists are right that a few conservatives are beholden to a self-defeating purity.
The Republican members of the world’s greatest deliberative body aren’t covering themselves in glory. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky have always been noes, leaving no margin for error. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas are additional noes on the current repeal-and-replace bill, while Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have joined Collins as noes on repeal-only.
Actually, some of these shortcomings are, while likely fair criticism, also at least somewhat understandable. Trump’s “legislative leadership” abilities were always wholly dependent upon having an honest broker as a bargaining partner on the other side of the table. There are zero Democrats who will be willing to discuss full repeal even with a replacement. President Trump probably could come up with a deal that would get something passed, but I assure you that Rich Lowry wouldn’t care for it because it would be done with mostly Democratic votes and most assuredly wouldn’t include a repeal.
We can kick around arguments about the establishment, conservatives, moderates and pragmatists as Lowry defines them above all you like, but it mostly comes down to the same small set of assumptions in the end. The established leadership only has so many options when herding cats and our particular felines don’t like to sit in the same pen very often. Some of the moderates from less reddish states were always going to bolt from elements of the conservative agenda which might give them trouble back home. The President’s poor numbers in many of their states and districts certainly haven’t given them the confidence to make bold steps to the right.
I suppose the real question is how much impact failure will have. Lowry concludes his piece by proclaiming that a majority is a terrible thing to waste. I tend to agree, particularly when you remember that the leadership kept insisting that we needed to deliver majorities in both chambers plus the White House before they could do anything big. (Or “bigly” if you prefer.) If you can’t do it now, there’s no doing it at all. But is the repeal of Obamacare the only benchmark? As I’ve argued here in the past, it may have been a lost cause from the moment it went into effect given the difficulty in removing any entitlement program once enacted.
I’m not trying to paint lipstick on this pig, but could the current leadership perhaps hit some other big ticket items? What happened to tax reform? And I mean actual reform, not just a re-swizzling of the current brackets. Real immigration reform which doesn’t include amnesty? (And I’m talking about changes in our laws, not just executive actions.) They should be able to get on the same page for that one, but if we can’t even come up with money for the wall then we’re sliding closer to wasted majority territory.
Debt reduction? (Not just slowing the growth of the deficit. Reducing the debt.) Entitlement reform? Any of these ringing a bell? We had plenty of promises about those as well. They are mostly things which President Trump can’t really affect much via executive fiat (and he shouldn’t be able to) which won’t be undone by the next Democrat to move in. We’re talking about substantial, lasting change. If they can deliver on at least most of those, they might just be forgiven for falling flat on their faces on Obamacare repeal. That was always going to be a heavy lift, as I said.
It’s still too early to say as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the clock is ticking and midterm season is just around the corner. But the members still have to show up for work and they might as well be trying something. This doesn’t have to wind up being the GOP’s “everlasting disgrace,” as Rich described it. But somebody needs to get at least the vast majority of those cats back in the pen and let us know what Plan B looks like very soon.