Unexamined Premises

Paul Ryan Takes the Barzini Meeting

Well, it’s not like wiser heads didn’t warn him:

And yet Paul Ryan walked straight into the Barzini trap that president Trump set for him. By insisting that the voters desired “Repeal and Replace” when in fact all anybody wanted was “Repeal, full stop,” Ryan’s inner wonk superseded his duties as the speaker of the House to ensure the votes were there for the “Replace” part of the equation. That they weren’t should be the end of his speakership.

Apparently, Ryan had been listening to the die-hard never-Trumpers too much, and actually thought he could skate on his opposition to the insurgent outsider, whose entire campaign was based on his contempt for the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party and apparatchiks like Ryan. Once the bright shiny penny of young GOP congressmen, Ryan blotted his copybook badly in his disappointing vice-presidential debate performance against a gibbering Joe Biden. He then played coy after House conservatives finally managed to sack former speaker John Boehner, but eventually accepted the proffered crown. During the election, he fought Trump every step of the way and lied about it.

So heading into round one of the health-care debate, there was no love lost between Trump and Ryan. Despite the fact that the House had already voted some 60 times to repeal Obamacare — which is all GOP voters had been asking for — Ryan got it into his head that what was really needed was a Republican version of Obamacare: “a better way.” And so he set about crafting the latest version of GOP me-tooism, the American Health Care Act, which was ignominiously yanked this afternoon when it was clear there were not enough votes to pass it.

Ryan’s team repeatedly fumbled the ball, diluted the free-market message they should have been selling, and lost sight of the point of repealing ObamaCare — which was to bring down insurance costs for millions of middle class families who’ve seen their premiums skyrocket and their benefits diminish under ObamaCare.

The culmination of all this was a misbegotten bill that was far less free-market than Ryan’s “Better Way” blueprint issued over the summer, and that kept in place the very regulations and mandates that were causing ObamaCare to fail in the first place. Having accepted the core premise of ObamaCare — that health insurance is a right that should be guaranteed by the federal government — the House bill ended up, by necessity, recreating various other pieces of ObamaCare as well.

Despite Trump’s lip service in favor of the bill, it’s hard not to believe that Ryan was set up for disaster. The bill had the speaker’s fingerprints all over it, so it was a win-win for the White House. If the bill passed, fine: bad as it is, it was a marginal improvement on Obamacare, and Trump could be seen as having fulfilled a campaign promised. If it died, it was all on Ryan. And with it dead, the American people can continue to be tortured by the long, slow, painful death of Obamacare until they finally cry uncle and come begging to Trump to end the misery. Two out of three ain’t bad.

If the House GOP had wanted to insult and infuriate their voters, this bill was the best way to do it. Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

In a proper parliamentary democracy, of course, Ryan would have already stepped down. The speaker has one primary job, which is to shepherd legislation through the House. And while there’s renewed talk about a revolt against his “leadership,” there’s no one on the horizon as a plausible replacement at the moment. Still, Ryan’s now roadkill, and it’s just a matter of time before even he realizes it. This is what happens to wiseguys who think they’re about to be a made man, when in fact…

So what at first might seem a defeat for Trump is in fact anything but. The president can now move on to more pressing matters — nuking the filibuster and getting Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court bench; explaining the facts of life to Li’l Kim and the North Koreans in the bluntest possible way; crushing ISIS in a manner that will get the Muslim world’s undivided attention for a very long time; reforming the tax code (for which he’ll probably need a new speaker); and — when all the ducks are in order — bringing the rogue members of the intelligence community to account for their rolling coup attempt.

But all this fun’s still in the future. For now, let us ponder the spectacularly public fall of the speaker of the House, done in by his own ambition. Here endeth the lesson.

Follow me on Twitter @dkahanerules

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