Yesterday, I placed blame for the healthcare debacle at Speaker Ryan’s feet. I also wrote that I expected the Republican establishment to blame the tea party. To blame us for aborting the Trump presidency in his first 100 days.
Today, I’m going to beat the establishment to that punch a little. Because the Freedom Caucus and some of my favorite action organizations looked a little juvenile in this debate. Juvenile and stupid. In fact, if this were an auto accident (instead of a trainwreck) I’d allocate responsibility at about 60% to Ryan and 40% to the Freedom Caucus.
But that’s my initial assessment. I could change my mind if I get some answers to these questions.
1. Did you honestly believe that the bill you defeated was worse than Obamacare? 2. Did you honestly believe that defeating Paul Ryan's bill would inspire the Republican establishment to write a better bill? 3. Did you honestly try to improve the bill, or did you decide early on to just kill it? 4. What is your end state on health care? 5. What is your plan to achieve that end state? 6. Do you accept the assessment by many that you retroactively vote "aye" on Obamacare, seven years after the fact? 7. Do you accept accountability for the consequences of defeating the new president in his first major legislative initiative?
I’d love to hear from the House Freedom Caucus members themselves. I know some of those members committed to voting “aye” on the bill yesterday. And others bargained in good faith, indicated they really wanted to vote for the bill.
Others, however, wanted to kill the bill because of the hamfisted way Ryan brought it from the dark to the light. These obstructionists intended to inflict their damage no matter how good the bill became. I direct my questionnaire to those saboteurs. I wonder if they realize how much damage they might have just done to their own cause. I wonder if they realize that people prefer incremental improvement to shock treatment.
I wrote, if this bill fails, Obamacare is here to stay. The bill failed.
Everyone who helped kill the bill helped keep Obamacare around. You said in effect, “I hate Obamacare, but it’s better than what the Republicans offered.” In other words, the 30 or so holdouts in the House own Obamacare now. As do those activist organizations who cheered on the obstructionists.
I’ve written before of my affinity for Patton’s quote:
A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances.
– George Patton
When Donald Trump won in November, circumstances changed dramatically. Leaders would have adapted their principles to these new circumstances. Both Ryan and his opponents seemed determined to adapt circumstances to their principles. They both failed.
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I have a feeling that the Freedom Caucus did what 16 Republicans, Hillary Clinton, and the entire mainstream media establishment could not. I have a feeling the Freedom Caucus destroyed Donald Trump’s chances of winning. And I’m not alone.
Presidents never get second chances to make first impressions. So, Donald Trump’s opportunities to repeal and replace ObamaCare after this week’s failures diminish as time passes.
The late Milton Friedman in his book _The Tyranny of the Status Quo_ noted that “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity. Further changes come slowly or not at all, and counterattacks develop against the initial changes. The temporarily routed political forces regroup, and they tend to mobilize everyone who was adversely affected by the changes, while the proponents of the changes tend to relax after their initial victories.”
Prospects for Republicans fulfilling their seven-year-old promise to the American people now look bleak. And conservatives, once again, find themselves conserving liberal laws.
It is hard to overestimate the damage the Freedom Caucus has done to the fledgling presidency of Donald Trump, and to the country. By blocking the American Health Care Act of 2017, the conservative group has guaranteed that Americans will struggle forward under the burden of Obamacare. In the next few months insurers will announce their premium hikes for the coming year; chances are, given the continuing withdrawal of major companies from the marketplaces and the ongoing failure of the bill to attract enough young and healthy participants, the new rates will not be pretty. Last year premiums went up 25%; it’s likely the increases will be higher this year.
This is the truth: the Freedom Caucus has breathed new life into the demolished Democratic Party.
We shall see if Ms. Peek’s and Mr. Flynn’s grim conclusions are correct. But their assessments of the immediate damage seems obvious. And the lack of mature leadership from the Freedom Caucus is indisputable.
When I think of leadership, I think of Patton. Paul Ryan gave us General Fredendall. The Freedom Caucus gave us even less.
UPDATE: From Peggy Noonan who sees things so clearly:
Politically it’s all obvious. For the new administration it is a loss and a significant one. It has damaged the new president’s prestige. Every president until he fails has the aura of unused power. _Boy, when I use it, you’re gonna see muscle._ He used it. No muscle. Fatal? No. Damaging and diminishing? Yes. It is an embarrassment too for Speaker Paul Ryan.Together they could not get a win on the board after they threw everything they have into it. This does not speak well for everything they have.
The central dynamic behind the bill’s difficulties is that the Republican conference in the House is divided between institutionalists, who support the leadership; conservatives, who found the bill too soft; and moderates, who found it too hard. By putting forward the bill, they allowed this division—which was wholly predictable and may be irreconcilable—to play out as a public breakdown rather than an impasse.
In this case, the hardliners were playing a productive role by pointing out the real policy consequences of the piecemeal approach being pursued by the House leadership. Though we’ll never know for sure how the numbers might have looked if a vote had taken place, it’s clear that many centrist members of the Republican caucus were also prepared to vote this bill down. House conservatives, if they could be blamed for anything, it’s for having the audacity to urge leadership to actually honor seven years of pledges to voters to repeal Obamacare. If anybody was moving the goal posts, it wasn’t Freedom Caucusers, it was those who were trying to sell a bill that kept much of Obamacare’s regulatory architecture in place as a free market repeal and replace plan.
What happened with the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line conservatives he had wooed over and over again?
“Ah, that’s the big question,” Trump said with a slight chuckle. “Don’t know. I have a good relationship with them, but I couldn’t get them. They just wouldn’t do it.”
Trump alluded to long-running, simmering dramas on Capitol Hill, which he said had little to do with him, as a reason the Freedom Caucus could not back the bill.
“Years of hatred and distrust,” he said. “Long before me.”
Was Trump saying, perhaps, that the inability of Ryan and his team to work well with that caucus was part of why talks stalled?
“Well, look, you can say what you want,” Trump said. “But there are years of problems, great hatred and distrust, and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”
“I think they made a mistake, but that’s okay,” Trump said of the Freedom Caucus.