The GOP: Can ‘the party of no’ learn to govern?
This was supposed to be the easy part, said Zeke Miller in Time.com. With President Trump in the White House, and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the GOP should have had no trouble repealing the Affordable Care Act—as they had voted 50 times to do while President Obama was in office. Instead, the “repeal and replace” effort collapsed last week in a humiliating defeat for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, raising a fundamental question: “Can this Republican Party find a way to govern?” It’s doubtful, said Joan Walsh in TheNation.com. Last week revealed a deep fissure in the GOP— between moderates and the far-right Freedom Caucus—and exposed Trump himself as an “incompetent poseur” with limited powers of persuasion. But the bigger problem is with the party as a whole. Having been “marinated in Obama hatred for eight years,” the modern GOP is less a political party than a “collection of grievances,” bound together by a shared loathing of liberals, cultural elites, and government itself. As even Ryan admitted, “Being against things was easy to do. Now we actually have to get people to agree with each other.”
There’s no denying that Republicans had a bad week, said David Williams in WashingtonExaminer.com. But the health-care bill’s collapse has created new “incentive and pressure” on the GOP to show it can pass legislation. In tax reform—the next item on both Trump’s and Ryan’s agenda—they have “the perfect opportunity to get something big done.” Lowering and simplifying the absurdly complex corporate and personal income tax code enjoys broad popular support, unlike repealing Obamacare. Trump also has a real passion for tax reform, said Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.com, and last week’s embarrassing failure could be just the “shock to the system that Republicans need in order to start working together.”
We’ll see, said Catherine Rampell in WashingtonPost.com. Tax reform involves countless “painful trade-offs and angry interest groups” who will fight bitterly to protect their own entrenched interests. The issue will also force Republicans to address a core contradiction between the party’s long-standing belief in tax cuts for the rich and the blue-collar populism that Trump rode into the White House. Trump says tax reform will be “fun,” said Ezra Klein in Vox.com; he also said repealing Obamacare would be “easy.” When push came to shove, however, Trump showed neither the detailed grasp of policy nor the patient coalition building that gets bills passed in Washington. This president just may not be capable of the “slow, arduous work of governing.”
Decades ago, a party in control of both Congress and the presidency would have had free rein in pushing through an agenda, said Francis Fukuyama in Politico.com. Powerful committee chairmen and party leaders could use “a combination of bribes and threats” to bend renegades to their will. But today, pork-barrel “earmarks” have been eliminated, and Freedom Caucus members can rely on outside activist groups for funding, instead of the party hierarchy. House and Senate Republicans are far more frightened of primary challenges, and their own constituents, than they are of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, or President Trump. It’s still early, but Trump’s plan to be “a powerful and transformative president” seems stillborn. “It is much more likely that the Trump presidency will continue to hobble along, weakened by its own lack of experience and internal contradictions.” ■