The impulse is to revel, maybe even gloat a little, over the crash and burn of "repeal and replace." There is satisfaction to be had when these arrogant pricks go down to ignominious defeat. I fear though that this is but one small victory, and more than a few dark days lie ahead as "repeal and replace" is replaced by "sabotage and undermine."
Along with the general incompetence we have come to expect from the Trump regime, this little fiasco provides another illustration that Paul Ryan's reputation owes much to self-promotion, in which he finds common ground with the president (see Ezra Klein, Donald Trump is extremely bad at making deals, and Paul Krugman, The Ryan Role, for some examples). The mishmash Ryan rolled out as the American Health Care Act was roundly and rightly pilloried from both wings of the political bird. Now he has the temerity to put the failure down to growing pains that go with the transition from being a "party of no" to being a governing party. It seems not occur to him that the minority party may have a responsibility to offer something more than intransigent opposition to whatever the majority proposes.
The president's notoriously short attention span and low threshold for boredom were on display throughout. At best he exhibited a tenuous grasp of detail and substance and no evident interest in learning more. Hence his admonition to the Freedom Caucus "Forget about the little shit" when the little shit was precisely what fight was about. All the president cared about was a declaration of victory at the end, which he was denied. Woot.
Instead of a rhetorical case for the AHCA, Trump gave us whining about Democrats who would not come on board because they hate him and Republicans; leaks, insinuation, and innuendo laying the mantle of failure on Paul Ryan's shoulders, while in the words of the inimitable Sean Spicer, the president and his team left everything on the field; and gleeful promises that the Affordable Care Act will collapse and the blame will fall on Barack Obama and the Democrats. You might think the president and the congressional majority have a political obligation and a moral responsibility to act to alleviate the consequences of an ACA implosion instead of rooting for it to happen because they believe it will be to their political advantage. Except that, no, you would not think that at all. Why would you think they are anything but what they have shown themselves to be?
Should I take heart from this dazzling display of incompetence and backstabbing? Maybe a tentative "yes" is in order if the outcome serves to strengthen the resolve of Democrats and, it may be hoped, Republican moderates to stand up to the administration and to the Ryanite and Freedom Caucus factions of the Republican Party's radical wing. Any optimism is tempered by recognition that the fate of this initial attempt to "repeal and replace" was not so much a victory as a staving off of defeat. This does not figure to be the end of it.
Meantime, the administration continues to move on multiple fronts to advance Steve Bannon's program of national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism, and deconstruction of the administrative state, while Ryan pursues his program to destabilize and ultimately do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs. They move to make government programs less efficient so they can use the inefficiencies as a rationale for cutting and ultimately eliminating the programs. Now is not the time to rest easy.
Memo from the Editorial Desk
Editorial revisions were made to this piece after it was published because, well, it was pretty clunky before. I hope it is better now.