The grand Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare was yanked from the House floor Friday, just before it was to be voted on. The reason the bill, called the American Health Care Act, failed so spectacularly is that despite much last-minute whipping from President Trump, the votes simply were not there.
This leads to one overwhelming and unavoidable conclusion: The Republican Party is broken.
In the frictionless world of political science, a healthy political party is supposed to advocate a set of principles and policies, and should they achieve electoral victory, implement them. Then at the next election, voters get the chance to pass judgment on their platform, either confirming their vision or throwing them out in favor of another party with different ideas.
Now, even at the best of times that's not always what happens. Often parties are punished for sheer bad luck, as when a global financial crisis happens to strike during their term.
But Republicans are not even remotely close to the ideal. Instead they have spent the political fuel of social conservatism and hatred of liberals — and especially racist resentment of the first black president — on vicious cuts to social programs and taxes on the rich. But the GOP also realizes that the true power source of their politics, and the obvious fact that their cuts would brutalize the poor and working class solely to further enrich the fantastically wealthy, are simply too uncomfortable to admit.
That in turn means that ceaseless duplicity, both towards the public and themselves, has become the signature feature of American conservatism. They swore up and down that deleting the welfare state would unleash free-market utopia that would work out better for everyone. Meanwhile, conservative writers made a cottage industry out of ludicrously tendentious historical revisionism insisting that actually, Democrats are the real racists.
This intellectual rot partially explains the party's retreat into denial of other inconvenient facts, like climate change and evolution, as well as their accelerating tendency towards electoral cheating. The story of voter ID laws — where Republicans sensed electoral advantage in preventing liberals from voting (especially black ones) and ginned up a quick, obviously false, cover story by insisting that actually, Democrats are the real cheaters, mirrors the story on racism and welfare exactly.
Donald Trump partially cracked open the party's contradictions. Revisionist history of the civil rights movement became simply laughable when he ran on naked bigotry against Muslims and immigrants, attracting a coterie of overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and still won traditional Republican constituencies. But he also promised to leave social insurance alone during the Republican primary, and benefited from it. For a time it seemed the party might reorient along more honest lines.
But President Trump is also incurious and disinterested in policy. When Speaker Paul Ryan put forth his libertarian-lite plan to drastically reduce ObamaCare subsidies and gut Medicaid so that the stinking rich can have a big tax cut, Trump halfheartedly swung his weight behind it.
But it is simply a fact that virtually no one wants this sort of policy. What most rank-and-file Republicans hate about ObamaCare is that Obama passed it. Meanwhile, the ultra-conservative faction in the House predictably wanted even more vicious cruelty. When Ryan and Trump tried to buy them off with more poor-mulching goodies, they started hemorrhaging votes from their moderate wing. (And somewhat remarkably, even the most conservative Democrats aren't touching this turd.)
What's more, their revisions were amazingly incompetent, increasing the price of the bill by $186 billion over 10 years without improving coverage in the slightest. And then they made yet more revisions before the final vote without even waiting for a CBO score, desperately trying to pass it on to the Senate (where it was almost certainly doomed). But instead, Republicans just faceplanted right out of the gate.
Now, they have plenty of time to take another bite at the policy apple. But when a party is led by a buffoon with neither interest in nor ability to understand policy details, and has been drip-fed on a diet of increasingly nutty lies for decades, this is what you get.