In the wake of the collapse in the Senate of the Republican led fight to repeal and replace Obamacare, after years of calling for precisely that, Republicans must now face up to an unpleasant reality. In fact several realities:
First, they are not a unified party with common beliefs and goals and they are not team players. In the GOP, as we saw in the 2016 primaries when Republican pols and would-be pols who thought they should be president fragmented the party’s primary voters to pave the way for the biggest, baddest of the lot to bull his way into the nomination, Republicans can’t even hang tough in the halls of Congress. Moderate Republicans pulled in one direction, conservatives in the other and the net result was the collapse of the effort to repeal and replace.
Second, taking back entitlements, once in place, is hard — maybe all but impossible. Republicans shattered along ideological fault lines but also along lines of self-interest as they struggled to come to grips with the implications of taking away benefits their constituents, who mostly reviled Obamacare but who happily took Obamacare’s benefits, were unwilling to part with. Republican Senators, looking to their own re-election prospects, weren’t going to put themselves in voters’ sights next Election Day by being linked to the loss of treasured entitlements.
Third, Republicans have managed to demonstrate their profound inability to do the hard work of governing, letting the nation and the world know that their one-time grand coalition has all but imploded. If Donald Trump’s capture of the Republican nomination in 2016 didn’t demonstrate the failings of an increasingly tired and sclerotic political alliance, once known as the Grand Old Party, the collapse of the effort to repeal and replace the much reviled Obamacare program surely has. Political parties are forged on common goals and interests but the GOP has now shown it has very little of either. Aside from getting elected and replacing Democrats, by any means possible, Republican coalition members seem to have nothing else to hang onto. For today’s Republicans the old notion of big unifying national issues to create a common agenda is a thing of the past.
What’s next? Republicans are still the majority party in Congress, at least until the next elections in 2018, but they seem to have lost the will as well as the vitality to get much done. Democrats, still smarting from the unexpected defeat of their candidates in 2016, are chafing to get another crack at governing in 2018. If the Republicans cannot find some means of revitalizing their dispirited coalition, the Democrats will have every chance of accomplishing that goal in the upcoming races.
If they succeed, the ostensibly Republican Trump administration will be facing some real headwinds from Congress and can expect its last two years in this term (maybe its only term) to make these first seven months look like a cake walk. If the Trump folks think the Russian allegations have been disruptive until now, wait until they see a Republican majority in either or both houses of Congress replaced by a Democratic one (no longer an impossibility thanks to Republican collapse in Congress).
Holman Jenkins, writing in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, speculates that in case of a Democratic victory in the 2018 mid-terms, it might not be surprising to see President Trump decide he’s more of a Democrat than a Republican after all and jump ship in an effort to make his peace with a newly resurgent Democratic majority in Congress led by New York’s senior Senator Chuck Schumer. But, given the harshness of the Democrats’ rhetoric against Trump until now, not to mention the growing media narrative demonizing him and all his minions and hangers-on, how realistic would that actually be? Wouldn’t Trump have to offer the Democrats an awful lot to get them to change their tune about him and happily welcome him into their ranks, a born-again Democrat?
And how would that go over with the Democrats’ own base all but weaned on the Trump as monster meme? Or the massively liberal media who have spent years denouncing and demeaning the man and everything he stands for? Could the Democrats’ rank and file turn on a dime and abruptly accept a man whom they’ve spent years reviling as one of their own? Would it be easy to give up such a a fruitful target as Trump has been for achieving Democratic party unity, perhaps the most useful tool for that since Barack Obama was president?
The more likely scenario is that President Trump will discover that he is as stuck with Republicans as they are with him.
But both are facing political defeat and exile, on a mass scale, in the wake of the repeal and replace fiasco, a political disaster largely of Republicans’ own making. And if there’s no fix for that, it may indeed turn out that Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP in 2016 was also that party’s death knell — although Republicans, then and now, can have no one to blame but themselves.