The GOP’s car crash moment
Trump’s patriotic populism vs. the GOP leadership’s checklist conservatism
I caused a car accident the day before my 17th birthday. I was driving my friend home from school after a National Honor Society meeting, and I clipped my passenger side mirror on a van that was parallel parked on the side of the road.
I pulled over to asses the damage, and found that I had demolished the van's driver side mirror. Even though no one was hurt and my car sustained only minimal damage, I thought it was the end of the world.
Despite the crushing feeling of existential dread as I drove to my dad’s collision shop to tell him what I had done, everything ended up working out for the best. My parents admonished me to be a more careful driver, and I have been on the road without another incident since my minor car accident.
President Donald J. Trump and House Republicans have just experienced their first car crash. Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric from skittish pundits, the failure of the American Health Care Act is not a disaster for Trump’s presidency, and it won’t bring an end to Paul Ryan’s speakership (although he should have been replaced at the beginning of this session). Rather, this blunder offers a blueprint for each side to move forward in a constructive and productive fashion.
Make no mistake about it, the AHCA was a fatally flawed piece of legislation. It did nothing to address the two cardinal sins of Obamacare: skyrocketing premiums and the individual mandate. The CBO estimated that premiums would increase an astonishing 760 percent for 65-year-olds with $26,500 annual incomes.
Instead of paying an individual mandate to the government, the uninsured would pay a 30 percent “continuous coverage” fee on their annual premiums to insurance companies for late enrollment. Worst of all? The bill didn’t fully repeal Obamacare or allow for free market reforms championed by President Trump during the campaign. There was no mention of drug reimportation from Canada, nor a provision for selling health insurance over state lines.
The bill also paid homage to longstanding GOP policies (tax cuts for the rich and entitlement reform), but failed to account for the struggles of the very voters that propelled Trump to office. A Bloomberg study showed that Clinton voters would get a sweet ride under the AHCA, but Trump voters would be washed out to sea. There is no surprise here that the issues Trump ran on are sharply misaligned with the GOP leadership’s agenda, but it is shocking that the president would make the AHCA his first legislative priority.
It is obvious to anyone outside of the D.C. bubble that three of Trump’s key issues were instrumental in his upset victory: building a wall on our border with Mexico, strongly enforcing existing immigration laws and renegotiating harmful trade deals that have ripped off our middle class. All three of Trump’s major issues are clearly out of the Republican mainstream, so it makes sense that they are low on the pro-amnesty, pro-free trade GOP leadership’s agenda.
Just as my car accident guided me to be a safer driver, this AHCA debacle provides President Trump with an excellent opportunity to be a more effective champion of his ideas. And, just like my accident, this legislative failure is less fatal than it seems today. Instead of allowing the GOP leadership to use him as a blunt instrument to push poorly-conceived legislation through Congress (thanks, Ben Domenech), Trump should take a more active role in the legislative process.
Trump needs to stay laser-focused on the issues important to the middle class. Instead of listening to the elite D.C. swamp dwellers, Trump should truly drain the swamp by doubling down on his patriotic populism.
There are plenty of people in D.C. that look out for the politicians, the elites and the special interests. Trump needs to be a bulwark for the pipe-fitters, the plumbers, the truck drivers and the construction workers.
Trump is here to defend the everyday, hard-working Americans that play by the rules and make an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Trump would be wise to remember why he broke the blue wall, and apply those lessons to his domestic agenda.
Congress needs to do its part as well. For all the chatter about Trump being a political dilettante, Paul Ryan (who literally got down on bended knee to push the AHCA) has some serious work cut out for him. The rollout of the AHCA was a disaster, as was the actual content of the bill. (The GOP had 7 years to devise a competent repeal and replace bill, but it’s Trump’s fault it didn’t pass? Some of these pundits defy logic.)
Instead of steamrolling its conservative wing, the GOP leadership needs to foster a truly open legislative process in which all voices are welcome. Instead of ramming legislation down the throats of skeptics, we should work on a sincerely conservative, consensus-driven agenda that broadly aligns with “Trumpian” populism.
The time for legislative games is over, and the time for governance has begun. I am confident President Trump will rise to the moment by renewing his focus on the voters and issues that propelled him to office, instead of getting bogged down in fool’s errands like the American Health Care Act.
Tom Hebert is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the President of the AU College Republicans.