The incredible, shrinking Trump
Donald Trump’s health care debacle is a political train wreck that could not have been avoided, in large part because a clueless, couldn’t-care-less engineer was at the controls: Trump himself. There is plenty of blame to go around, but the main cause of the extraordinary defeat was Trump’s own leadership, or lack of it. His humiliation is an object lesson in what happens to lying, blustering, post-factual presidents: They lose the credibility they need to get things done.
To be sure, the entire attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, as the landmark program known as the Affordable Care Act was better known, was a foolhardy undertaking from the start; once 20 million more Americans had enjoyed the benefits of the hard-fought law, it was politically difficult to reverse course. The repeal part was driven mainly by the politics of resentment—the same politics which fueled Trump’s unlikely presidential run. In previous terms, even when they did not have the right conditions for a repeal, Republicans sought repeatedly to undo one of Barack Obama’s chief legacies. They kept voting symbolically to repeal it.
What makes the decision to pull the American Health Care Act, as Trumpcare was formally known, from consideration on the floor of the House of Representatives last Friday even more striking, then, was that all the political branches of the US federal government were in Republican hands. But many Republican senators went on record to say they could not support the measure, and both conservative and moderate Republican wings in the House opposed it. The new president of the United States, of course, is Republican.
It is true that the seven-year-long Republican dream to undo Obamacare proved to be an intraparty nightmare in real life. The House Freedom Caucus did not support the bill because it was not conservative enough and did not do enough damage to the Affordable Care Act. The moderates heeded the Congressional Budget Office’s warnings about leaving millions of people without insurance. The job was thus cut out for Trump: Balance his party’s competing interests. Like never before, the spotlight focused on Trump’s leadership style—and he wilted.
The self-proclaimed artful negotiator could not bring his own party to the table. Again, the internal divisions were serious and real. But Trump’s approach to negotiation all but assured that the divisions remained in place. In lieu of detail, he offered bluster. Instead of compromise, he set take-it-or-leave-it deadlines. The candidate who promised that Americans would be “so tired of winning” under his presidency did not know how to win.
In the end, his own party failed to come together because Trump was a divisive figure rather an uniting one. His two attempts to impose a discriminatory anti-Muslim travel ban were stopped by the courts. His entirely unnecessary alienation of his country’s traditional allies has continued and now includes Germany. His campaign’s unusual closeness to the Russian government is under investigation. He continues to tweet unpresidential tweets at odd hours. And his ratings keep plumbing historic new lows.
When political careers are at stake, who would rely on someone unreliable in the clutch like Trump? The lies, bluster, and post-factual assertions of the new president finally caught up with him.
Even after the stinging defeat, Trump could not manage to find his way to speak the truth. “The best thing that could happen is exactly what happened—watch,” he said. His presidency invested a massive amount of political goodwill and government resources in the last few weeks to try to kill Obamacare; now he expects his country and the rest of the world to forget all of that happened. Trump needs some serious health care of his own.
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