Saturday, March 25, 2017

It Sucks Being In Charge: The Lessons of Trumpcare

It’s hard to be in charge of the government.  It comes with responsibility, much like being an adult.
 Taking care of the government comes with a fiduciary responsibility to act with care for the public good, much like being a parent comes with it responsibility to look after children.
This is just one of the many lessons that will not be learned by Trump and the Republicans as a result of their failure to repeal Obamacare.  It was so easy to vote 50+ times repeal it when it did not matter, but once the reality of owning the issue and having to be accountable for it was here, the Republicans simply failed.  They failed in part because they had become the party with a negative narrative.  By that, Trump and Republicans ran successfully in their opposition to the status quo, except they had no alternative vision of how they wanted to govern.
Part of the problem is that many of the Republicans along with Steve Bannon  have a negative theory of the state.  Their’s is not the night watchman state of minimalism, it is even more profound in terms of see the state as the enemy.  It is kind of hard to govern and be in charge when you actually do not like the machinery of power that you are holding and your aim is to dismantle it.    Another problem with the failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a Republican alternative is that the Affordable Care Act already was the Republican alternative.  How do you out-Republican the Republican alternative?
But the failure to repeal the ACA goes deeper than health care.  Political power and influence is not stagnant; it either increases or decreases but it never stays the same.  Richard Neustadt’s the power of the presidency is the power to persuade was on full display in the health care fiasco.  Any president, including Trump, should be at the strongest in the first 100 days.  Securing their first legislative victory is important for so many reasons, including showing the political capital one has.  Herr Trump and even Speaker Ryan expended enormous political capital and failed.  Next to immigration, repealing the ACA was the signature theme of Trump and the GOP.  If there was anything they should have been able to do it should have been this.  Yet the failure here was multifold.
For all who elected Trump because he was a total outsider to Washington, guest what?  It takes insiders to govern and to know how to move legislation.  Trump had none of the requisite skills to move legislation.  He also showed the limits of his ability to negotiate when in fact, he did not negotiate. He threatened Republicans legislators and failed.  He is weaker because of that because they are no longer afraid of him.  Presidents, as I have argued, cannot simply order people around and think they will obey.  This is especially true of Congress.  Moreover, as any good negotiator will tell you, real bargaining is a non-zero sum game, it is not about bullying people around.  Trump had nothing to offer anyone to vote for the bill except his wrath and that was not enough.  The art of a deal requires dealing and Trump did not do that.
Trump and the Republicans also seemed to think that a bill that originally took over one year to pass and which had six years of implementation history could easily be replaced in two weeks. This brief time frame was not enough to vet the bill, to build coalitions, to flesh out the unanticipated consequences.  In so many ways it failed to learn the lessons of why health care reform failed under Clinton and succeeded under Obama.
Moving forward Trump seems already bored with health care reform and plans to move on.  He has said the Obamacare will die of its own accord and will do nothing to fix it.  Guess who is most hurt but Obamacare’s failures?  The rural and working class who voted for Trump and the Republicans.  Doing nothing hurts his supporters the most, but had his reforms passed they too would have hurt his supporters the most.
It seems unlikely that Trump has learned anything from his failures here.  Back in 2016 when asked what would happen if Trump or Clinton were elected, I said no matter who would be elected it would produce gridlock and produce no major change from what was happening between Democrat Obama and the Republican Congress..  Here the gridlock is intra-party, because the Republicans really are not a party united by a common vision for government and society.  Instead, they are profoundly divided by their hatred of the status quo and lack a realistic vision of what it means to be in charge and responsible.  It really sucks being an adult.

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