It’s been said that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan, but in the case of Obamacare repeal it appears as if failure has more daddies than Freddy Kruger, the bastard son of a hundred maniacs. Ramesh Ponnuru from National Review has a pretty good roundup of how a signature GOP issue somehow couldn’t make it past a GOP-controlled Congress, placing some of the blame on the Democrats’ demagoguery of the issue. The real problem, however, was the inability of Republicans to refute their specious claims.
In a well-run, coordinated campaign for a health-care bill, they would have challenged each and every news story that said Republicans were taking away insurance from 14 million-plus people, or that talked about coverage-change numbers while burying the role of voluntary decisions in driving them. They would have prodded reporters to do fact-checks when Democrats said Republicans would “kick tens of millions off insurance,” instead of just relaying Democrats’ misinformation. Republican press secretaries would have called the outlets that said they were rolling back the Medicaid expansion and walked the reporters through why they were wrong.
Nothing like that happened this time. A few Republicans made the point about voluntary departures from the insurance rolls — but only sporadically, rarely with numbers, never in a sustained way.
In other words, they just allowed the Democrats to control the narrative. Granted, it’s very difficult to Republicans to break through when the news media are pushing the exact same narrative–but with the millions of dollars the GOP spends on consultants, you’d think at least one of them would have some ideas on how to get the message through.
Then there’s the White House. The Trump administratition obviously wanted to claim victory on a campaign promise, with the president signaling that he had pen in hand and was ready to sign pretty much any repeal-and-replace bill that Congress sent him–even the “skinny” option that would leave Obamacare largely intact. Still, when it came down to actually doing the hard sell on repeal–doing the work of actually getting out to the public and hammering every day on why it’s necessary to get rid of this horrible law that is already collapsing private health insurance–the White House has also been strangely absent. Sure, the president let loose with a few tweets here and there, but it’s not like he was burning up the phone lines to pressure Congress and making speeches every day on the subject.
So what gives?
It’s simple. Nobody wants to own repeal.
Congress doesn’t want to do it. In fact, a lot of Republicans are perfectly happy with Obamacare in place. They just never expected Donald Trump to win the election and bring the curtain down on their theater votes, where they could make it look as if they favored repeal knowing full well that any bill would be dead as soon as it hit President Hillary’s desk. Meanwhile, the true conservatives who do want Obamacare gone can’t see themselves voting for repeal in name only, making an already dysfunctional system even worse–and putting a GOP label on it to boot.
The White House doesn’t want to own it either. The mere fact that Donald Trump has said he’ll sign whatever Congress sends him signals loud and clear that he doesn’t care about the substance of the legislation–but with that attitude comes a significant risk. What if the bill that will inevitably become known as Trumpcare sucks? Trump values his brand a lot more than that, and I seriously doubt he wants that kind of stink to follow him around for the rest of his presidency. Maybe he figured out that Congress, divided as it is, was never going to pass anything anyway–which was good, because then he wouldn’t be put on the spot. That would also mean that he could pretend to be acting on his campaign promises without having to taint himself with some half-assed repeal.
It would also serve another one of Trump’s managerial methods: keeping his people in conflict with one another. So far, most of his fights have been against the media–but a do-nothing Congress that wants to torpedo his agenda could also serve to consolidate support amongst his base. He avoids signing a repeal that he never really wanted in the first place, while blaming Congress for its failure. In Trump world, that’s a win-win.
It’s just too bad that the rest of the country has to lose.