Trump was the best the Republican Party could do

There’s lots of news out today suggesting that Trump’s antics and histrionics may be jeopardizing one of the GOP’s top aims: repeal of Obamacare.

The Republicans, who originally spoke of repeal, then shifted to repeal and replace, are now taking about “repair.” It’s unclear what that will mean in terms of concrete policies, but it’s very clear that enough of the leadership believes it is losing the political battle over Obamacare such that it now has to describe what it is doing in vastly different terms. Terms not unlike those used by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

Listen to Paul Ryan as he twists himself into a pretzel:

“So what kind of got going on here is, I’ve got a confluence of words,” Ryan said during the television interview. “To repair the American health-care system, you have to repeal and replace this law, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Kind of like Selena Meyer forgetting what “the three R’s” were during that presidential debate on Veep.

Part of the reason the Republicans have lost the script on Obamacare has to do with the program itself, and the difficulties they’re running into in repealing it. But part of it, as the New York Times is reporting tonight, has to do with commotion Trump has caused with his Cabinet appointments and his executive orders, and the massive resistance both have provoked.

Congress’s rush to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, once seemingly unstoppable, is flagging badly as Republicans struggle to come up with a replacement and a key senator has declared that the effort is more a repair job than a demolition.
An aspirational deadline of Jan. 27 for repeal legislation has come and gone. The powerful retirees’ lobby AARP is mobilizing to defend key elements of the Affordable Care Act. Republican leaders who once saw a health law repeal as a quick first strike in the Trump era now must at least consider a worst case: unable to move forward with comprehensive health legislation, even as the uncertainty that they helped foster rattles consumers and insurers.

When Congress convened this year, Republicans immediately introduced a budget resolution clearing the way for legislation to gut the health law, with strong support from Mr. Trump, who took office 17 days later. But Mr. Trump’s rocky start has slowed the momentum, depleting his political capital and dimming prospects for bipartisan cooperation.

In addition, many senators are preoccupied with fights over the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court and top jobs in his administration. What was once considered Congress’s Job No. 1 is being eclipsed for some lawmakers by more immediate matters.

It’s way too early to tell what will happen, but at a minimum, it’s clear that Trump’s way of doing business is getting in the way, at least right now, of the GOP’s business. The more that happens—and the more the GOP is forced to beat a further retreat on Obamacare (and perhaps other issues)—the more enraged the base will get. Either with Trump or with the GOP. Either way, things could get hairy, internally, for the party.

But I want to step from this immediate news to raise a larger issue.

Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that these tensions and instabilities in the Trump regime are there, if not growing. The military is already blaming Trump for its mishaps in the field. Already 40% of the country are saying that they’d like to see Trump impeached. And we’re still less than two weeks into his presidency. As historian Kevin Kruse pointed out on Twitter tonight, it wasn’t until 16 months into the Watergate scandal that you saw impeachment numbers like that during Nixon’s second term. It’s not a great comparison, given the level of polarization in the country today versus then, but what those polling numbers (and Trump’s historically low, dismal approval ratings) do tell us is that rather than expand his or the party’s base, Trump has shrunk it. Not something presidents in their second week in office seek or tend to do.

So, then, the question becomes: Assuming they could have gotten the nomination, was there any other Republican who could have done better, who could have unified and led the party, if not the country, more?

All the other Republican candidates were loathed by the party faithful even more than Trump was. None of them knew how to bring together together the base, which wanted blood, and get themselves into the White House at the same time. Maybe Kasich or Rubio could have done that, but they were the biggest losers of the final four. They were the equivalent of Scoop Jackson in the Democratic Party, who many party leaders hoped might raise the standard against the Republicans despite the fact that virtually no one supported him besides themselves.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the personalities, politics, and policies of the Trump administration—and no matter how revanchist and right-wing the Republican Party is, it’s difficult to imagine a Cruz presidency seeming quite like this—we have to see the unprecedented opposition to their rule as a symptom of not only their hamfisted tactics but also of the waning unity and power of conservatism itself. Both internally within the Republican Party—it was clear that the party faithful wanted something more than what Bush, Romney, Ryan, and McConnell had provided—and beyond the Republican Party.

In fact, it was the singular insight of Trump and Bannon to recognize that waning power of conservatism and to act on it. That’s what prompted their critique of the Republican Party; that’s what enabled them to take it over; and that is what remains, to this day, the premise of their rule. While much of the bravado and commotion of the past two weeks, I continue to believe, is more the product of incompetence and artlessness than design, there’s little doubt that a winging-it improvisational style is something Trump has always prized. As he says in the second paragraph of The Art of the Deal—the only passage in this 367-page book in which I could find anything resembling a coherent idea—

Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just what develops.

With that chaotic style, which Trump and Bannon mistake for substance, they’re hoping to turn weakness into strength. I have my doubts that they can do that, as I’ve said many times, but the more important point is that this was best the Republican Party could do.

In other words, in some very fundamental and palpable way, the Republican Party had no other choice but to nominate Trump. This—this last-ditch gamble of his—was their only hope.


  1. mark February 3, 2017 at 4:53 am | #

    Paul Krugman blog, Nov 29 2016, ‘How Many People Just Voted Themselves Out of Health Care? (Updated) (Updated again) (And again)’

    “Update: It turns out that I can do a lot better than this, using the Census CPS table creator. Here’s what I have now: in 2013, 27 million whites without a bachelor’s degree were uninsured. By 2015, that was down to 18.5 million. So we’re talking about 8.5 million working-class whites who stand to lose health insurance under Trump. If two-thirds of those losers-to-be voted Trump, we’re looking at 5.6 million people who basically destroyed their own lives.”

    Paul Krugman blog, Jan 10 2017, ‘There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement’.

    “From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and subsidies. Here’s how I put it exactly 7 years ago:

    Start with the proposition that we don’t want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions — which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

    So why not just impose community rating — no discrimination based on medical history?
    Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

    So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don’t currently think they need it.
    But what if they can’t afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.”

  2. jonnybutter February 3, 2017 at 8:22 am | #

    Yes, GOP did choose their strongest candidate, and Dems, true to form, chose their weakest.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant February 3, 2017 at 10:04 am | #

      And both of them had policies that leaned right.

      • jonnybutter February 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm | #

        Hey Donald – If you do Twitter, great thread by about this very thing, via Blackstone Group, here

      • LFC February 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm | #

        Actually HRC’s policy proposals did not, on the whole, lean Right. One might not always have liked how she and her campaign chose to package and present them, but that’s a somewhat separate issue.

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant February 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm | #

          That is true; but the change took pressure from the left. Absent that….

        • jonnybutter February 3, 2017 at 6:01 pm | #

          They leaned Left in a decidedly Right frame, and even THAT took Sanders, as Donald says.

  3. again February 3, 2017 at 9:50 am | #

    in saul alinsky’s words, republicans were seeking revelation rather than revolution. they tried to do what they always accused obama of doing — imposing an alien theocracy from above.

  4. WLGR February 3, 2017 at 10:47 am | #

    To me it seems clear that faced with a chance to go beyond rehearsing dozens upon dozens of pro forma repeal votes, the GOP is being forced to grapple more directly than before with what should be an obvious fact: the ACA is a neoliberal program and the establishment GOP is its natural ideological base. As with cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, as with bailout/stimulus packages whose implementation is outsourced to large financial firms, as with “free trade” agreements, as with pretty much every area of public policy in our neoliberal era, the pseudo-opposition between market-based neoliberal “solutions” and total denial of any problem with existing markets whatsoever is a ploy to drag the left away from any potential non-neoliberal positive agenda, but in none of these cases is blanket denialism the actual position of any substantial bloc of the neoliberal establishment, even if its existence serves a useful and valuable political purpose. Actually passing the blanket repeal seems counterproductive from a neoliberal point of view, not only by reinstating unchecked all the obvious prior market failures that gave healthcare reform a sense of urgency in the first place, but by opening up the possibility of a less fully neoliberal version under the next Democratic government, especially if Trump’s GOP does away with the legislative procedural hurdles that gave Dems an excuse not to pursue anything more “radical” than the Romneycare/Heritage plan in the first place.

    The properly neoliberal move would be to expand the new markets created by the ACA to absorb less marketized areas of healthcare like Medicare and the VA, which would require laying much more groundwork both technocratically and ideologically before it could be feasible. The once seemingly inevitable Hillary presidency would have provided maybe the ideal scenario here, a “grand bargain” of sorts where the Ryan Congress would have allowed some package of non-repeal-based technocratic modifications to the ACA in exchange for other neoliberal concessions from the left, perhaps even the long-awaited Social Security reform that stalled in 1997-98 thanks to DC’s collective freakout over Bill’s dick. With the GOP’s unexpected and premature return to the White House one might hope for some ideologically traumatic confrontation where people like Ryan are forced to prominently reverse course and repudiate the denialist energy they’ve abetted, but I have my doubts: like all right-wing reactionaries, the anti-Obamacare folks are easily manipulable and counting on them to reject the GOP establishment out of a consistent application of their (confused and incoherent) principles seems like a pipe dream.

    • LFC February 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm | #

      the pseudo-opposition between market-based neoliberal “solutions” and total denial of any problem with existing markets whatsoever is a ploy to drag the left away from any potential non-neoliberal positive agenda

      If it is a “ploy,” it’s been, at best, only partially successful, since portions of the Left have not been “dragged away” from advocacy of a “non-neoliberal positive agenda.” One might reasonably doubt, moreover, whether outcome A, involving an additional 20 million or so people w health ins. of at least some sort, and outcome B, involving a return to the pre-Obamacare status quo, represent a completely “pseudo” opposition.

      • WLGR February 4, 2017 at 3:04 pm | #

        portions of the Left have not been “dragged away” from advocacy of a “non-neoliberal positive agenda”

        Of course the key phrases there are “portions of” and “advocacy of”: the Democratic Party as an institution has absolutely been dragged away from actually making the mildest of concessions to social democracy, and I assume you included those phrases because you know this full well. Nobody who wasn’t living under a rock from 2009-10 could have missed the way “moderate” Democrats were given the longest possible leashes to sabotage left-ish proposals like the public option and the EFCA, with a public indiscipline no GOP caucus would have permitted under similar circumstances, and in a way that predictably didn’t do a thing to prevent most of these “Blue Dogs” from being annihilated in the 2010 midterms anyway. (Not that swing-seat Dems trying to fend off reactionary constituents wasn’t a BS excuse either, since the mortal knife wounds to the public option and card-check were delivered by Senators from Connecticut and Delaware respectively.) If you can explain this in terms other than Democratic Party leadership’s fundamental opposition to a labor-oriented social-democratic agenda, I’d be interested to hear it.

        One might reasonably doubt, moreover, whether outcome A, involving an additional 20 million or so people w health ins. of at least some sort, and outcome B, involving a return to the pre-Obamacare status quo, represent a completely “pseudo” opposition.

        You’re at least correct that doubting this is a thing one might do. It would be fair to say that Republican politicians’ performative opposition to the ideological symbol called “Obamacare” puts them in a bind as a governing party since they don’t substantively oppose the actual policy content of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, any more than Mitt Romney did when he was flaunting these same policies as Romneycare — the recurring pattern here for the past several decades has been Democrats successfully rebranding the Republican agenda as a Democratic agenda and thereby exiling the GOP to the ideological doghouse until they can stake out a coherent position to the right of the newly-rightward Dems. At least for the moment, the GOP’s bag of ideas on healthcare is pretty much empty apart from histrionically depicting the Heritage Foundation’s ’90s-era right-wing alternative to Hillarycare (which itself was Nixon’s right-wing alternative to Great Society-era proposals for single-payer) as a crypto-Stalinist plot to destroy freedom, but whether or not Dems can nail them electorally on this lack of ideas in the short term won’t necessarily change the overall rightward drift of US public policy, especially since too bright a spotlight on the GOP’s incoherence might risk shining some of that light on their own incoherence in turn.

  5. Glenn February 3, 2017 at 11:42 am | #

    I think the extreme exploitation of the most vulnerable people for the profit of insurance company owners is despicable. Adding the fear of being dropped for non-payment while unable to work is unconscionable.

    I was threatened with termination of employment and insurance while caring for extremely ill family members, and while not being the kind of person who would terminate the terminators in response, I did learn to reserve judgement of those who do respond to one form of violence with another of its forms.

    Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival protest signs that demand “Keep the government’s hands off of my ACA” (a replay of the same protest for Medicare by Tea Partiers) purely for my amusement.

  6. Mushin February 3, 2017 at 2:38 pm | #


    I still read your posts and am wondering why? I am bored with the commentary. So here is a thin slice of my reality as a humble common man that despises all this intellectual DC bullsh$t and camping out in the wilderness with my family in the American Indian’s wisdom continuum of manifest destiny. Westerner’s are stupid, angry people, and have a lot to learn about wakan the great mystery.

    It appears to me, WE are now in Post Normal Time (Abnormal Psychotic Leaders) where we are experiencing in real-time pure-play the reality show of infotainment propagandized manufactured consent rhetoric in punditry’s 5,000 channels of social media where scientific facts are discarded, fake news is history making in every crises conversation increasing exponentially uncertainty creating despair in fear of the next moment. All this western intellectual bullsh$t is coming home to roast in global political hen house and the wolves have killed the hens, and now eating the baby chicks. The epitaph on the tombstone is they eat their own. The real danger is the millennial chicks have had enough of this bullsh$t worldwide and are refusing to play the game in business as usual in neoliberalism capitalism. Trump is the trickster and our greatest teacher of what not to do in caring for societies.

    American leadership values exported global dominance for the past 70 years and has created emerging post modern complexities of the industrial neoliberal economic patriarchal culture that is 2,500+ years old. The map is not the territory rather our historical landscape in languaging. Imperialistic power based in domination and submission, militant control and distrust by masses of people in regulatory capture rent control, race and gender discrimination, and endless episodes of war competing for resources are now in dispute internally and worldwide as failed historic institutional discourses. There is no center other than my own human autonomy. The polarized disputes are armed to the teeth and the claws of incivility in appreciative inquiry and dialog is the new normal. Listening is impossible in the midst of subjective relativistic screamers. In AI’s rush to exploit end users, customers and citizenry the mercantile systemic system has destroyed P2P triadic human relationships. We live in an inhuman robosphere making us ill and have lost contact with our own ancestral brilliant humanness, and even more importantly mother earth’s evolutionary drift birthing our own animal spirit-senses as humanity.

    We face cataclysmic perils in this psychotic pattern of exponential growth of western patriarchal economic culture. The notion of the emperor having no clothes is the live reality global program happening. Trump is demanding that his narcissistic grandiosity of an immature arrested adolescent child is alone, and is wise and capable of reconstituting this failed historical patriarchal institutional discourse. Never mind what Jesus said “I of my own self can do no thing.” This Christian mouth piece is bigger than Jesus. Yet, the onslaught outrageous domination and submission in his declarations are demonstrating the systemic unlawfulness of the unquestioned power of neoliberal thoughts, thinking, think tanks mistaken observer errors, politicians fly by the seat of their asses, and enormous real-time contradictions in reality. Trump’s bottom line is offering the world an unending debtor prison to masses of people worldwide based in the notion of an emperor incompetent in business and a bull in the china closet in governance.

    Like a beehive being knocked out of its tree, global virtuous knowledge-makers who are already stressed out with shifting mandates of leaders, fire fighters in corporate fears, are coming alive, and saying “no” to this demand for obedience negating self-responsibility, self-rule, trusted P2P generative creativity, and self-corrective governance. Our human ethical hard-wired autonomy in systemic systems has resisted unlawfulness in business as usual throughout human history and every pathway of humanity. Trumps dead speech acts are presenting global stakeholders in every domain of ethical history-making activities an opportunity to redesign their social value propositions in business re-constituting a future caring world together. So, let’s give the trickster his due applauding his willingness to never accept the humiliation from others. The western patriarchal 18th century MBA bean counter leadership is based in shorterminism, greed and power, and Trump is the poster child. We must commit to intergenerational finance and capital structures deploying the humanness in our shared humanity that passionately desires to plan for the 22nd century in a mood of joyful concern, not these immature bullying moods of fear, distrust, resentments, resignation and despair. Listening to him you want to shoot yourself to remove yourself from the insane rhetoric.

    Hedge Funds managers using AI algorithms to rule neoliberal markets throughout the world are instigating a swarm of black swans based in economic greed that ignores people, companies and countries. The complexity, chaos and emotional contradictions in the systemic systems pattern language are increasing the real fear, panic and stupidities, while propagating shallow denial of human P2P genocidal attitudes, behaviors and activities as a the cause of our predicament. We are caught up in a trajectory of 2,500+ years historic self-inflicted cultural wounds P2P and collectively have lost what it even means to become human beings? Life has been reduced to what is your job in the slave market, credit score, who has the biggest the set of balls or tits, and the hell with tomorrow, party up its the end of the world? We need an Internet of Humans not an Internet of Things ran by Goldman Sacks. Taking back Wall Street from bankers, insurers and politicians requires us investing in ourselves in the day after the end of the previous mistaken worldhood. I imagine a cooperative circular service science economy that is five times the current primary economy and deploying every bit of human creativity to transform this cybernetic mess. This requires envisioning a 22nd century today in effective actions where today’s behaviors are relinquished to future museums teaching children what not to do as human beings. I submit Donald J Trump will have stature in that museum.

    Simultaneously, never in the history of our humanity has the surrounding pressures on human autonomy triggered urgent collective decision making been more important then in this moment of truth. What we are experiencing is insane, mistaken observer historic errors in mythological ghosts, prejudicial swept along cultural ignorances, and failed institutional policies governing western patriarchal discourses. What amazes me personally as a baby boomer is the regressive coercive deceptions since November 22, 1963. One would imagine that continuos shock and awe events in reality would awaken human nature? We American’s haven’t learned anything in the past 55+ years as a democracy. The Trumpinism declaration is celebrating the return to the alt right Nixon notion of Law & Order in making America great again. Pardon me but I literally have to barf my brains out at that notion. As a veteran I remember Kent State University and where Nixon buried the Constitution on an American campus. The entire notion of any citizen claiming Nixon as a hero is obscene, outrageous and criminal based on the facts. The most insulting aspect of the 2016 election media frenzy was validating Henry Kissinger as a political prize to either party and allowing him to re-enter American governmental design conversations as a legitimate voice in our coexistence as a society. Trump installing Steve Bannon on the NSC is right out of Kissinger’s playbook and beyond the pale of celebrity nonsense. Henry Kissinger who paraded as a celebrity in the 1970’s should be arrested as a genocidal criminal for the Allende 911 in 1973 that makes NYC 911 look like a picnic. We want severity in cleaning the swamp? Bring back public hangings and hang this global criminal Kissinger during Super Bowl Halftime show this Sunday. Let’s move beyond the infotainment shadows of the alt right who got upset over Janet Jackson’s tit and reveal the real dead speech acts that created the current political swamp in Washington DC. Trump’s NSC core mover team is empowering the inmates in the American Exceptional Shadow Asylum, composed of deranged psychotic mentally ill elites, to run the world into total genocidal destruction. Wait till Exon gets a hold of the 85 million acre reserves in Russia.

    We can only surmise in short order, following the current past two week trajectory, that we on the verge of the total collapse of any notion of civil discourse and never mind the ancient oral nobility of familial peace and friendship of triadic appreciative inquiry and dialog in human conversations. To experience that reality one must enter an American Indian Reservation, USA prison Camp, where oral manners of human beings still occur in daily reality and “Water Is Life” means something in context to one’s daily behaviors in Mother Earth’s womb. As the late great cybernetic ecologist of mind Gregory Bateson said “without context, words and actions have no meaning at all. If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation, and if you have the idea that you are created in his image you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks, or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables. If this is your estimate of your relations to nature AND YOU HAVE AN ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic byproducts of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing.” The idea, as Bateson says, is real ecological rigor in cybernetics “is a difference that makes a difference.” Climate Change is a reality. We are the living reality show as stardust sharing the same origin. This spectacle happening is like watching a super locomotive traveling at the speed of light fly off a precipice with no engineer, no conductor or no brakemen onboard. When the crash of our shared reality as stardust hits the ocean, we will all have the same realization, that we did it to ourselves, and all these ghostly gods had nothing to do with our collective learning experience.

  7. b. February 3, 2017 at 4:09 pm | #

    Trump nominated himself. The Republicans nominated Pence.

    The Republican Party had one problem: to prevent a Clinton presidency. They didn’t accomplish it, but Trump did, and who cares at this point – that problem is solved.

    Pence, Gorsuch are an indication that, for all their factionalism, the Republican Party – and some forward-looking member of Trump’s inner circle – steadily extracts from the conveniently distracting trainwreck of the Trump pretendency the first substantial gains.

    • b. February 3, 2017 at 4:10 pm | #

      If, at some point, there is a worthwhile advantage to be had in disavowing Trump for “failing conservatism”, Pence is ready to take over. The idiot opposition is positioning itself to have to thank the Republicans for saving the Republic from Trump, and putting a “grown-up” Pence at the wheels.

      They sure can’t thank the Obama-Clinton pallbearers of the establishment for that.

  8. John February 5, 2017 at 9:32 am | #

    Corey, have you seen this, from the LRB? It is excellent – and funny as hell. John

  9. John February 5, 2017 at 9:33 am | #

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