Many left-liberals are currently celebrating the collapse of the Republicans’ proposed healthcare bill, which would have “repealed and replaced” Obamacare. There is good reason to celebrate, of course: the AHCA would have likely been even more disastrous than the ACA has proved to be. But some pundits seem to think that this, along with the ongoing Russia investigation, will be enough to sink Trump’s presidency. Finally, they say, after months of scandal and diplomatic faux pas, the orange menace will be laid to rest. Reid Kane Kotlas spells out why this isn’t necessarily the case:
Donald Trump did not lose; he got exactly what he wanted. He let the Republican establishment discredit themselves. Repealing Obamacare was not Trump’s issue; it’s been a Tea Party hobbyhorse since the bill first passed in 2010. They couldn’t even repeal it with a solid Republican Congress, which just demonstrates the depth of division within the party. Congressional GOP leadership now look bad in the eyes of their own supporters, which strengthens Trump’s leadership role in the party.
Trump is only in office because he’s been exploiting and exacerbating that division since he first announced his candidacy. Meanwhile, as the ACA gets worse and worse, it just reflects negatively on the Democrats who passed it in the first place. So Trump won. If you don’t get that, you don’t get politics.
All this should be fairly obvious to anyone not caught up in the 24-hour news cycle, with its constant barrage of bullshit reportage. What happened with healthcare is that Trump handed the House Republicans an unexploded grenade with the pin already removed. He let them indecisively juggle it around before blowing themselves up. Now if Trump wants to move in another direction, even a drastically different direction — something like, say, universal single-payer healthcare or medicare for all — he can honestly say to Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP, “You had your chance.”
Corey Robin, humbled in his political predictions ever since Trump won the election, hoped “that the rage of the GOP would overwhelm its reason.” Trump did him one better: he banked on it, while trolling the Pro-Life Freedom Caucus with midnight ultimata posted on Twitter. In all likelihood, Trump probably wouldn’t mind if the Republicans got mauled in the midterm elections. Especially some of the Tea Party holdovers, because he’d be better able to pass actual healthcare reform and infrastructure spending with Dems manning the legislative branch.
For the moment, however, his only visible internal opposition has been totally undercut. Some have gone so far as to suggest that it’s not even useful to think of Trump and his inner circle as Republicans. Rather, they represent a heterogeneous faction within a party they’re seeking to destroy and recreate. After all, Trump was registered as a Democrat between 2001 and 2008, and stated for the record that he was “very pro-choice” in a live interview from October 1999. His Republican opponents during the primaries weren’t wrong when they accused him of repeatedly praising the Scottish and Canadian models of socialized healthcare.
Others object it is more useful to think about Trump in terms of the constellation of social forces which elected him and the known-quantity conservatives and billionaires he’s since appointed to his cabinet. Michael Kinnucan, for example, correctly points out that
Trump was elected by essentially the exact coalition that voted for Romney, a coalition solidly united around repealing Obamacare, plus 1% of disaffected folks. He lobbied very hard to pass AHCA because he’s a Republican who (to the limited extent that he cares about policy) strongly believes in tax cuts and doesn’t care about healthcare beyond something-something-markets, and because his power to pass laws depends solely on a Republican majority committed to gutting Medicaid. But sure, maybe now he’ll pivot to single-payer!
Some degree of skepticism with respect to the above narrative is thus warranted, to be sure. Liberals seem to oscillate between the view that Trump is an incompetent buffoon and the view that he’s an evil genius. According to the former view, the executive fiascoes of the first sixty days are a function of his inexperience and lack of proper qualifications, while according to the latter these are just an elaborate ruse intended to attract or distract media attention while more nefarious measures are put in place. Just a way of keeping our eyes off the ball.
The reality, I suspect, is far more banal: Trump and his associates commit a blunder or violate the usual presidential etiquette. Media outlets and seasoned commentators like clockwork overreact with expressions of shock or disbelief. He then responds by further rubbing it in their face, which undoubtedly forms part of Trump’s appeal — i.e., his total disregard (even outright contempt) for time-honored convention. Quite a lot of this is improvisational or ad hoc, so I’m not completely sure that this was a deliberate move on the part of Trump. But it’s happened several times now.
Perhaps it was deliberate on the part of Steve Bannon, however. Bannon’s said since the beginning that he wants to “destroy” Ryan, and that the Tea Party darlings of yesteryear like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are “the enemy.” Of course, Bannon is known for his hyperbole and ominous statements about “deconstructing the administrative state.” So murky auguries help with his mystique. I mean, this is a man who called himself a “Leninist” to Reaganites and expressed open sympathy for the devil while he made a play for the evangelical vote. “Darkness is good,” Bannon told Hollywood Reporter, “Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan: that’s power.”
Nevertheless, I would caution against underestimating Trump’s political acumen, not to mention the intelligence of his closest advisors. This guy utterly dominated the Republican primaries despite running no campaign, while facing several career politicians at times united in opposition to him. He then proceeded to win the general election against someone who had decades of political experience, the complete backing of Wall Street, and a former president for a husband. Not to mention the fact that she outspent him on advertising by the price of roughly three F-35s.
And he did all of this despite having no experience in office, facing countless scandals — ranging from “he made fun of a disabled guy” to “he brags about grabbing pussy” to “he may be a child molester” — and receiving lukewarm support (if not outright hostility) from the most influential members of his own party. I’m not saying that either Trump or Bannon is some sort of diabolical mastermind, but neither one of them is an idiot. Both know how to spot an opportunity and exploit it, and how to manipulate people. Stop looking for some silver bullet that will magically take down Trump.
Your energy would be better spent trying to build a real political opposition independent of, and implacably opposed to, both major parties. Nothing short of socialism.