Thursday, July 20, 2017

Obama’s Last Laugh

Schadenfreude for Democrats can’t get much better than watching the Republican party self-humiliate.

By Daniel Henninger
The Wall Street Journal
July 20, 2017

Like pop-up dolls, across the length of Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans voted to “repeal” the law that bears his name—ObamaCare. He laughed at them then, and he’s laughing now. No repeal and no replace. They can’t even do repeal and punt.

For Democrats, this doesn’t quite make up for losing the election to Donald Trump, but it has to help. Schadenfreude can’t get much better than watching the Republican Party self-humiliate with an abject inability to win while controlling the House, Senate and White House.

To reimagine the spectacle, it’s as if Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren had carved each other up over some Democratic bill. That will . . . never happen.

It was written here in March that the Trump win in 2016 could be either a temporary bubble or produce a Republican governing majority for a generation. What does it look like now? How did so much promise produce this week’s dud?

One problem revealed by this episode is the liabilities of a presidency held by a non-ideological figure, a goal of good-government types. Until this moment, the Republican Party had become self-identifiably conservative. We have just learned two things.

The Republicans are not as conservative as they thought. As important, a complex legislative effort like this—Reagan’s 1986 tax bill comes to mind—was going to require both ideological discipline and direction from the top, from the president. The un-ideological Mr. Trump neither conveyed nor enforced idea discipline in his public messaging, other than “get it done.”

Lacking an ideological North Star, the Republicans reverted to form: They divided—first with the Freedom Caucus’s rebellion from the right in the House and then with the moderate Republicans’ 1970s-like spending demands in the Senate. At that point, the Laurel and Hardy act of Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran blowing up the bill was almost comic.

Left undone by this failure is a historic chance to reform the 1965 Medicaid entitlement that now will roll unchecked to the fiscal cliff. Also lost is $772 billion in savings, which imperils both permanent tax reform’s promise of strong economic growth and America’s underfunded defense posture.

Republican Party conservatism always seems to be an undone symphony. It started with Goldwater. Then came Reaganomics for a decade, which gave way in the 1990s to the religious right until the tea party displaced them, which gave way to a preoccupation with illegal immigration and the “establishment.” It’s one Holy Grail after another.

Now, incredibly, the party’s various idées fixes seem to include expanding Medicaid’s medical mediocrity to the non-poor. A bedrock belief in individual liberty and private property endures, but beyond that, the Republican identity today looks fatally inchoate, no one idea lasting long enough to make a deep impression on the electorate.

Democrats don’t indulge defection. After new Democratic National Committee head Tom Perez demanded a pro-abortion litmus test for party candidates, even Nancy Pelosi demurred. But make no mistake: Mr. Perez’s crude message was heard through the ranks. Income inequality, Medicare for all, choice—keep it simple, stupid.

When new Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed early support for a few of the Trump cabinet nominees, thousands of progressives demonstrated in front of his Brooklyn apartment shouting, “Get a spine, Chuck!”

Mr. Schumer hopped back in line fast. Did anything remotely like this public pushback happen to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, which Mr. Trump won by 42 points? Democrats are in the streets. The Republicans are on Twitter.

The ObamaCare reform failure has damaged President Trump. He has come a long way with some undeniable magic, but at the political margin, his can-do reputation has taken a hit.

The Trump White House is right that it has accomplished a lot—energy and financial deregulation, abandoning the Paris climate pact, reversing the Obama pen-and-phone executive orders. But big legislation is the big league of politics. It turns out the American Congress is not Wollman Rink.

This same Hydra-headed Republican party will now descend upon the budget and tax reform. The GOP’s negative-energy factions are already in play. On cue Monday, Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus pronounced the House budget dead on arrival. Some might call that a Freudian slip.

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