Conservative opinion-makers are struggling to strike the right tone in the effort to defend the specifics in the latest iteration of ObamaCare’s replacement bill.
Those on the right invested in policy outcomes, like The Federalist’s David Harsanyi and Forbes contributor Avik Roy, have observed that the bill does not repeal the ACA but it makes great strides in annulling its most onerous elements, devolves power to the states, and reforms Medicaid. Conservative pundits disinclined to tether themselves to the Senate’s ephemeral health-care sketch have argued that to vote against this bill is to scuttle the Republican agenda and sacrifice the party’s majorities to the fury of their betrayed base voters.
This is a complicated endeavor, and the stakes are high. Its participants are engaging in it in good faith. Notably absent from the barricades is the man in whose name they are ostensibly acting. President Donald Trump has not been absent from the fight to shape the public’s perception on the health-care bill; he’s been actively undermining the Republican position. In the effort to avoid tough choices at the likely expense of his political allies, Trump has put a test to his phalanx of fans in the commentary class.
Will pro-Trump voices note honestly that their party’s leader is exacerbating the headwinds the GOP faces in making good on a campaign-trail pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare? So far, the answer to that question is “no.”
Last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer showed no compunction about confirming anonymously sourced reports that alleged the president told Senate Republicans that the House’s compromise version of the American Health Care Act was “mean” and that it needed “more heart.” When asked what the president meant by “heart,” Spicer let forth a word typhoon designed to distract from the fact that he had no idea.
Conservatives know exactly what Democrats mean when they say legislation lacks “heart.” It means, unfailingly, that the draft in question doesn’t include enough tax dollar-funded spending proposals. A day later, the president confirmed conservatives’ worst suspicions about what he meant by “heart.”
At a campaign-style rally before supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last Wednesday, President Trump confirmed other anonymous reports indicating that he only wanted to see “more money” in a new health-care bill.
“I hope we are going to surprise you with a really good plan,” Trump told Hawkeye State rally-goers. “I’ve been talking about a plan with heart. I said, ‘Add some money to it!’” How much and to what, you might ask?
Not only did the president fail to back off his private contention that the GOP’s work was “mean” and “lacked heart,” he appeared annoyed when Barack Obama used the same language to describe the repeal of his namesake legislative reform. “Well he used my term: mean,” Trump boasted the hosts of Fox & Friends for an interview broadcast on Sunday.
On Monday, frustrated by the lack of acquiescence from Senate Democrats, Trump floated the prospect of not holding a vote at all. “Perhaps just let OCare crash [and] burn,” read a petulant presidential tweet.
None of this helps the Senate GOP get on the same page when it comes to health-care reform. In fact, it’s actively counterproductive.
The Trump White House has made it plain that the president has no intention of absorbing any criticism over the version of health-care reform that emerges from Congress until he’s aware of how dangerous that could be for his political brand. Trump spent the 2016 campaign promising to extend insurance to all, regardless of the unfeasibility of that prospect. Even ObamaCare failed in that charge despite the mandate on all citizens to purchase insurance.
“The government’s gonna pay for it,” Trump further declared while promising to avoid reforming imperiled entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Trump took pride in taking what he called “un-Republican” positions on the expansion of federal entitlement programs. Today, Trump is both deferring to the Republican-led legislature on the specifics and heckling from the stands when those specifics don’t meet his impossible standards.
Perhaps unable to reconcile the contradictions or fearful of the conclusion that would result from an honest appraisal of Trump’s actions, his defenders in media have taken to filing dispatches from an alternate universe.
“Are Republican senators doing enough to have your back to get that health care bill through?” the president was asked by Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth. Laura Ingraham’s online magazine Lifezette published a takedown of Democrats for calling the health-care bill “mean,” while making no mention of the fact that President Trump apparently agrees. Ann Coulter attacked the Republican Congress for abandoning the principles of market capitalism in writing their “disaster” of a health-care bill. A psychologist might call all this projection.
The congressional Republican effort to get their party’s various factions on board to repeal and replace ObamaCare is hopelessly complicated by the fact that the President of the United States does not fully share their objectives. Donald Trump wants to minimize his political risk and maximize political benefit, and he has no qualms about throwing his party overboard in the process. It is terribly revealing of conservatives in the pro-Trump commentary class that they would rather wrap themselves in cozy and familiar security blankets than grapple with a discomfiting reality: Their leader isn’t always on their side.