President Donald Trump is at war. But it’s not one against the enemies of the people, Democrats, Nordstrom, countries not named Russia, the former president who he says wiretapped him, or the microwaves spying on him per aide Kellyanne Conway.
This week Trump will have to fight on a new front against his own party’s friendly fire, as Republicans progress from a covert operation to contain him with quiet pleas for fewer tweets and more teleprompters to an open one to stop him from killing them.
That war doesn’t just have outspoken grunts like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham but now soldiers like Speaker Paul Ryan, who deflected questions on the cost of Trump’s promises and Sen. Tom Cotton, who issued a stark warning on the annihilation awaiting Republicans at the polls if they stick their necks out to fulfil their promise to undo Obamacare, behind only the wall and locking her up on base voters’ list of priorities.
On ABC Sunday, Sen. Tom Cotton warned “I would say to my friends… Do not walk the plank,” on the American Health Care Act (don’t dare call it Trumpcare, says Trump) that’s already barreled through two committees. Cotton fears that they will “put the House majority at risk next year.”
And for nothing. While the Congress feels obligated to put something on paper before the April recess, Trump is leaving his options open, a position that works when you are bargaining over a lease in Dubai but not so much when dealing with The Hill. Trump continues to shout that Obamacare is a disaster about to implode if he doesn’t save it but puts little shoulder behind the current proposal to fix it. If it dies, Trump will claim he told us so.
On Monday, he met with so-called victims of Obamacare and read, hostage-like, from a prepared statement praising the general idea of more choice at less cost. More passionately he revealed his dilemma, his unhappiness that people are loving the thing they once hated. “If we end it,” Trump exclaimed, “Everyone is going to say remember how great Obamacare used to be?”
That’s similar to the horror that wakes him before dawn sometimes and that compelled him nine days ago to compose, with typos, his most intemperate tweet to date accusing Obama himself of being a “sick,” “bad,” guy who wiretapped him. “It’s a little bit like President Obama,” he said. When he was in office, “people didn’t like him so much” but now that he’s gone “people like him.” Sad.
Republicans are beginning to see the harsh truth that their embrace of Trump as a Republican for purposes of winning the presidency did not mean he would govern as one. He doesn’t care about his adopted party, not even enough to learn about the things it stands for, before he and Steve Bannon topple them. He cares about his business, the children who’ve been in business with him, and spending time at Mar-a-Lago. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan are way down the list, just ahead of others whose names he will never bother to learn. Let them get bogged down in the intricacies of legislating. During the campaign he plucked out of the Affordable Care Act the popular pieces he liked without a thought to how they fit together. He was very fond of covering pre-existing conditions and children being able to stay on their parent’s insurance, stopping just short of pledging to extend it until they’re eligible for Medicare. The resulting mirage is what he wanted to dub Donaldcare.
For Trump (for now), it just takes a rally at an airport hangar to gin up his base before retreating to the cocoon of his private club where there’s no risk of being egged. Members of Congress have to face their restive voters most weekends in community centers. Few of them have the con man’s charm, capable of convincing voters it’s not raining when it was, or spinning that he’ll give them so much inexpensive health care they’ll be bored with health care.
The White House did come to the defense of Ryancare with a pre-emptive shot at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Press secretary Sean Spicer declared before its numbers were out that the office overvalued Obamacare, which he refers to as “rainbows and puppies” and would devalue any prospective replacement. He also praised the House bill by stacking it up—literally—against the many more pages of Obamacare on the floor next to his podium on the most un-Trumpian principle that less is more and short is beautiful.
Spicer was right to be concerned. The CBO found that 24 million people would lose insurance under the ACHA within the next decade. As Trump said of health care, “It’s complicated!” This morning in a 9 a.m. tweet he didn’t promise that the ACHA would save health care. He promised generically that Republicans would.
To produce something within his first hundred days, Trump will have to either go all out for Ryancare or come up with an alternative not based on alternative facts. It’s harder than it looks. It’s not just Cotton finding his voice but Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, up for re-election in 2018, who is no longer so sure he wants to repeal and replace as that’s now conceived. In a piece of performance art, Sen. Rand Paul went looking for the bill and couldn’t find it, particularly entertaining since Republicans accused Democrats of not sharing the details of Obamacare until it was too late.
Once Republicans start speaking out, or not speaking up in Trump’s defense, who knows where it will stop. On the wiretapping charge, Trump has almost no vocal support. Other allies, including Republicans from farm states that rely on guest workers, are worried about his fierce deportation raids and are questioning him on immigration and trade agreements. Of NAFTA, Sen. Chuck Grassley said “We know what we have, and I guess I don't think it's as bad as what the president thinks it is.” And Sen. Cory Gardner came out to criticize the White House for “ making it too difficult to enter into trade agreements.”
What’s next for nervous Republicans? Tear down that (proposed) wall.