The Conservatives Made a Mistake
I fear the conservatives may have erred.
Let's accept that Paul Ryan's healthcare bill wasn't optimal. If the Congressional Budget Office was anywhere close to correct in its original estimations, the bill would have cut government spending by $12.5 trillion, cut taxes by $900 million, repealed Obamacare's tax increases, and instituted the largest entitlement reform in the last thirty years. But yes, it's true, it wasn't full repeal. Indeed, as long as insurance companies are required to cover pre-existing conditions, government healthcare is with us, and the bill would not have changed that. And it is certainly fair to doubt whether the third phase of Ryan's three-phase plan — the phase that would have returned the free market to insurance — would ever have gotten past the Democrats.
Let's also forget about any four-dimensional chess conspiracy theories. I do not believe even for a second this whole thing was a Steve Bannon plot to destroy Paul Ryan or a Paul Ryan plot to destroy Donald Trump. I think Ryan felt this was the best bill he could get past the moderates in the house who do not want to go home and explain to their constituents why they lost their Obamacare benefits, and the conservatives, who do not want to go home and explain why they didn't get full repeal. It's easy to pick on the speaker, but he doesn't live on talk radio where pure principle rules. He lives in reality where building a consensus through compromise is both necessary and difficult.
All this said, I simply feel that letting the bill die was such a huge mistake politically that it would have been worth eating the bill's flaws — trying to fix them in the Senate — and living to fight another day.
Republican Catastrophe is the Drudge headline as I write. And New Health Care Bill Failure Humiliates Trump. And Obamacare Stands — next to a picture of the former president giving a grim thumbs up.
I know that Donald Trump has now taken up such year-round residence in many of our pundits' heads that he ought to be paying rent. The pundits ought to wear the big gold Trump letters on their imaginations because the president essentially owns them. But I personally don't care all that much about Trump himself. He's fun and lively and entertaining, but he'll come and go, as will we all. But I do care very much about the country and about what policies Trump institutes and leaves behind: the tax reform, regulation cutbacks, solid judge picks, and stronger foreign policy that seem to be a real and legitimate part of his agenda.
The president has never shown himself to be a reliable philosophical conservative. He often seems guided to go where he is loved and work with those who are nice to him. He clearly is committed to the concept of winning. These are not traits I admire. These are just things I've noticed about the president and I don't think I'm alone in noticing them.
So that said, if the president now finds himself humiliated by the conservative leadership... if the president now finds himself unable to work with Republicans on the Hill... if in two years, the president finds that he no longer even has a Republican majority in the house... many conservatives may find they have paved the way toward an essentially left-wing presidency. I fear this may be the end result of the failure of the healthcare bill: a Washington in which Donald Trump can find more love on the left than on the right, more chance of winning through leftism than through conservatism.
Now you may say, well, sure, but it's all Paul Ryan's fault, or it's all Donald Trump's fault, or it's all the fault of the country for electing Trump in the first place. My answer to that is: Who cares whose fault it is? I just want the good Supreme Court justices, the tax reform, and the regulation cutbacks. To get those things, we have to play the cards we're dealt.
Listen, the future results of any political action are governed by so many incalculables, they're impossible to predict. My fears may be unfounded. I may be wrong. I think that happened once. 1967, I believe it was.
But if I'm right, if the conservatives have opened the doors to the left by their intransigence, then this was a major mistake.