WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Much of the commentary from this week’s health-care debacle seems to miss the point because pundits are still trying to fit the round peg of a Trump presidency into the square holes of their preconceptions.
Let’s stipulate for the record that Donald Trump is anything but an ideal president. He has virtually no qualifications, he doesn’t have a mastery of details, he has a short attention span, he has some problematic personality disorders, yada, yada, yada.
Let’s stipulate equally that the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party before it, is in disarray on the health-care issue, has some Darwinian ideas about social responsibility for providing universal care, and is largely bought and sold by the industry lobby.
That said, the problem with the health-care issue — and with many other burning issues for the American public — is that we are in the midst of a messy political realignment that hopefully will result in fundamental changes in one or both parties.
Even though he was the Republican nominee, Trump won the election because he departed from many established principles of the party. He campaigned against free trade and in favor of maintaining “entitlements” like Medicare and Social Security.
He pledged that no one would die in the streets with him as president. He promised to stand up for the “forgotten men and women” against the rapacity of industry chieftains concerned only about fattening their own paychecks by pursuing profit at any cost, even if it means exporting American jobs.
It may be he is a congenital liar and meant none of this, but these pledges are the reason he won.
In any case, it has little to do with business as usual in Washington. Anyone who is surprised that the Republicans don’t have a coherent policy on health care even though they’ve been inveighing against Obamacare for seven years hasn’t been paying attention.
For that matter, anyone expecting coherent policies on tax reform or budget in the coming weeks is also going to be sadly disappointed. The Republican Party is irremediably riven by various factions wanting contradictory things. Ditto for the Democratic Party.
The political genius of Trump, such as it is, was to run a campaign that has little to do with either party.
In a commentary on the health-care vote this week, Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins recognized the confusion resulting from Trump’s “incalculable” administration.
“In 16 months, after disastrous GOP midterms, will Mr. Trump announce he’s now a Democratic president?” Jenkins wrote. “In return for what does Chuck Schumer throw him a lifeline? The people who put him in office would applaud and say that’s our Trump, even if the media would be completely nonplused.”
Nonplused, yes, because many in the media are clueless about what’s going on in this country. “Journalists,” as another Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Riley, observed this week, “continue to prioritize their own political concerns and play down those of the nearly 63 million people who pulled the lever for [Trump] in November.”
Just like his new BFF, French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump goes beyond the traditional divisions marking political discourse in this country. Trump can be a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent because he has not irretrievably tied himself to any dogma. Right now, he’s playing at being a Republican, but, as Jenkins implied, that could change.
A new poll out this week affirmed that Trump has fashioned his own base and they still support him. A Wall Street Journal/NBC survey of the counties that flipped to Trump from Barack Obama in 2016 or which Trump won by 20 percentage points more than Mitt Romney in 2012 showed that 50% approve Trump’s performance as president, compared with only 40% nationally.
Support for some of his signature issues, such as protecting U.S. jobs, reached as high as 75%. But even in these counties, a majority, 54%, opposed Trump’s efforts to replace Obamacare.
In the meantime, as the trench warfare over health care goes on in Washington, it is the voting public that suffers. While the sky-high premiums and deductibles of Obamacare are wrenching, it at least gives people the chance to obtain health insurance.
The debate over repeal or repeal and replace with a half-baked system that is even worse would be farcical were the consequences for individuals not so grave. The idea that our elected representatives, including Trump, could be so cavalier about the life-and-death consequences of this legislation is the most frightening aspect of the whole debacle.
The way out of this dead-end politics won’t be easy to find. If Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer truly means what he says about finding a bipartisan solution to the health-care dilemma, that could be a start.
“It should be crystal clear to everyone on the other side of the aisle that the core of the bill is unworkable,” Schumer said after the collapse of the Republican bill. “The door to bipartisanship is open now. Republicans only need to walk through it.”
Not much “resistance” in that statement. It suggests rather that the Democrats are finally ready to accept the reality that Trump is president and that by working with him they can actually accomplish something constructive for American voters. What a concept.