Amateurish Trump’s Healthcare Debacle Shows He Can’t Govern. Nor can the GOP

Is this the worst start to any presidency in history?

William Henry Harrison died thirty-one days after he swore the oath of office, but I’d say Trump still pips it.

He has been humiliated by his failure to push through his “repeal and reform” healthcare agenda. He may tweet the blame around but the responsibility for this incompetence lies at his door. No student of history, no doubt even he will remember a predecessor once declared that the buck stopped at the Oval Office.

Trump touted himself as a deal-maker but has proved the task is beyond his limited skill-set. The defeat goes beyond his promise to produce a “beautiful” replacement but to the heart of the promise the party he leads had made for seven years. Their vacuity has been brutally exposed.

The GOP controls the executive branch and both houses of congress, yet have been unable to repeal something that they have campaign upon at every election since its inception. 

Failure is an orphan and all that, but this one has one father: Trump. He is meant to lead. Unlike Obama in 2009, Republicans rushed this process. It took Obama over a year until he passed the Affordable Care Act. 

Obama worked hard over time to make good - imperfectly - on his election promise, it took Trump two weeks before he forced the choice of “take it or leave it”. They left it.

if this is a blessing in disguise, it is very well disguised

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this debacle is that it became the number one issue on the president’s agenda. Governing is often about making difficult choices. It says a lot for the GOP that they forced this as a priority. This was not a bill written from the White House which left the details to House Speaker Paul Ryan. It says a lot about Trump that he went along with the plan.

It would be too Churchillian to say that, if this is a blessing in disguise, it is very well disguised. However there is a crumb of advantage here: the reform was massively unpopular. Huge majorities opposed the policy, many of them in the demographic that voted Trump. The Congressional Budget Office reckoned within a decade it would result in 24 million fewer people having coverage. Trump was meant to be a different kind of Republican. It is why, despite losing the popular vote, he squeaked into the presidency with votes in Pennsylvania et al.

But this retreat deals a major blow to the rest of Trump’s agenda. Question marks appear over his ability to pass his infrastructure programme and tax reform. He should be at the height of his popularity, able to push through his agenda before the governing window closes. Despite greater difficulties, Clinton, Bush and Obama were all able to prevail over key legislation. Trump’s failure is unique.

Those on all sides of the party will be emboldened to oppose his agenda. They now know there is little cost. 

If repealing healthcare posed problems, how will the administration cope with the thorny issue of tax reform where there is significant opposition and divergence? Healthcare reductions would have meant his tax reform bill would have become revenue neutral; as such it could have passed using the reconciliation process, and therefore only needed a bare majority in the senate. As it is the GOP's majority is not filibuster-proof. The fight just became harder. On infrastructure, will he be able to square his promise of jobs investment with the regulatory demands of anti-government conservatives? 

His tenure is proving embarrassing in its ability to create failure

There are many metaphors for leadership. The central theme is that they rely on as much the appearance of success as reality. Trump has been lucky here - until now. The S&P index surged 9% since his election, the Dow Jones stock index is up 2,200 points, based on investors’ hopes that Trump will deliver on tax reform and infrastructure spending.

To opponents his ability to project confidence against the facts is mystifying. However, once that confidence goes Trump has nothing left to play. Twitter couldn’t save his healthcare plan. It will not save him in future.

The fact of the bill drives a stake into the heart of the idea Trump propagated during the campaign that he could solve the problem of spiralling costs without leaving Americans without coverage. He was unprepared.

It also kills the idea that Republicans are any but a protest group, currently held hostage by their extreme wing. After seven years of meaningless bills, when it came to the reckoning they have absolutely failed to deliver. They hold a majority in both houses. They failed. That Trump then tried to blame the minority - Democrats - is just pathetic.  

This is not a party of government. It is a party merely defined by what it is against. They are howling at the dying of the light.

Trump once said he would win so much that people would get bored. His tenure is proving embarrassing in its ability to create failure. If his Russian connections do not bring him down, his incompetence will.

It would be an insult to Prince Grigory to call Trump a Potemkin president of a Potemkin party. Grigory Potemkin actually achieved something.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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