Bill Maher once asked an interesting question – “Can we go back to using Facebook for what it was originally for, looking up exes to see how fat they got?”
Bill Maher was onto something. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to move on, but this wasn’t supposed to happen. Donald Trump was what America needed. He could get things done, whatever they were. The guy was a winner. He was a billionaire. He knew how to make the awful wonderful again – he was a businessman, one of the best there ever was. He had lost it all, several times, and came roaring back, richer than ever. America would roar back too – and then Republican leaders abruptly pulled their amazing overhaul of our healthcare system from the House floor. They didn’t have the votes. Trump lost. Obamacare won.
That had to happen. Nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea, probably because conservatives disagree philosophically with the concept of insurance itself. Insurance means spreading risk, which is a form of redistribution. They hate downward redistribution – think of Mitt Romney’s forty-seven-percent comment – and had nowhere to go. But there was something else. Trump really didn’t care, either way – he just wanted a win – and then Trump lost, and lost any claim to be fighting for the forgotten little guy.
That was his base, but the American Health Care Act would hammer the forgotten little guy. Twenty-four million Americans would eventually lose health insurance – priced out of the amazing “free market” that was so wonderful. The American Health Care Act was cruel. It got crueler with every new adjustment made to appease the Freedom Caucus hardliners – and they never were appeased. Trump couldn’t make the awful wonderful again. He was about to do the opposite. It was time to move on.
He had already hinted he was going to move on. His final ploy was an ultimatum – take the deal or he moves onto other things. Tax reform! Trade deals! You’ll feel like a stupid loser. Do you really want to be left behind, looking stupid, while he moves on to other big and impressive stuff – the good stuff? That’s what he said to the “no” vote crowd.
His enthusiasms, however, aren’t theirs. Each of them will be up for reelection sooner or later. They saw angry crowds with pitchforks, who didn’t give a damn about lowering the corporate tax rate. Trump’s ultimatum wasn’t the only ultimatum in play. Trump can move on. They won’t.
Where would Trump go anyway? Amber Phillips notes a few other matters may mess with Trump’s vow to move on:
With health care behind them, Congress is barreling toward an April 28 deadline to fund federal agencies until October, when another fiscal year starts.
Nonpartisan budget analysts warn that this budget debate could be another major flash point between the GOP establishment and the 30 to 40 conservative House lawmakers known as the House Freedom Caucus. One side desperately wants to show it can govern by passing a spending bill on time; the other demands ideological purity – like a deficit-neutral budget – and isn’t afraid to risk a shutdown over it.
Republicans don’t want a shutdown on their watch. But it remains to be seen what leverage Trump has to stop it. After trying – and failing – to get House conservatives on board with health care, watch to see how much effort he puts on wooing conservatives to agree to a short-term spending bill.
His top advisers say Trump is considering putting more emphasis on negotiating with Democrats instead. But that would be no easy feat, because Democrats have drawn a red line on any federal money going to Trump’s US-Mexico border wall.
There’s more to this than the budget. Congress suspended the federal debt limit until March 15, 2017 – the country is running on fumes – and Donald Trump once said we should default on all our treasury bonds to force a better deal on the interest rates on those. Any businessman knows the declaring bankruptcy is a useful tool to get a better deal on this and that. Trump has called himself the King of Debt but others changed his mind about our debt ceiling – for good reason. The world parks its money in the one safest thing around, US Treasury Notes. Say they mean nothing fixed and solid now and the world’s economy collapses. There is no safe place, no safety anywhere.
The real-estate genius didn’t see the problem. Now he does. He’s not in Atlantic City anymore. Default and get a better deal. That’s not an option, but now he faces the default-and-burn-it-all-down crowd. Not many Democrats will cut him some slack either. Lowering the corporate tax rate is a minor matter compared to this. There’s no moving on. This takes priority.
Phillips also notes this:
On Friday evening, just hours after Trump admitted defeat in the health-care debate, one of the top Republicans in Congress made a somewhat awkward announcement: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said his committee will consider a bill Tuesday directing the treasury secretary to hand over Trump’s tax returns to Congress.
Republicans aren’t having a change of heart on whether to make Trump release his taxes: Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports that Democrats used a procedural tactic to force Brady to bring up the bill in committee.
There’s almost zero chance this bill will move beyond committee Tuesday. But Democrats have successfully given themselves a small stage to try to hammer the president on this.
That’s not going away either, nor is this:
Tuesday had the potential to be another jaw-dropping day on Capitol Hill with regard to revelations into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election and whether any Trump associates had anything to do with it.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had invited top Obama national security officials – such as former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates – to testify in another rare public hearing.
But that hearing was scrapped late last week. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said Trump ally Nunes was trying to “choke off public info.”
Meanwhile, the committee has yet to figure out when former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will be interviewed over his ties to Russia. Other former Trump advisers with ties to Russia – Roger Stone and Carter Page – also volunteered themselves to speak to the committee.
There will be no moving on from that too, and Andrew Sullivan wonders what is going on here:
Is he waving or drowning? Swimming or sinking?
I ask this question because we’re more than two months in and the trauma has not subsided, but it has, perhaps, bifurcated. Sure, Trump still shows alarming potential as a would-be tyrant, contemptuous of constitutional proprieties, and prone to trashing every last norm of liberal democracy. But he is also beginning to appear simultaneously as a rather weak chief executive, uninterested in competent management or follow-through, bedeviled by divisions within his own party, transfixed by cable news, and swiftly discrediting himself by an endless stream of lies, delusions, and conspiracy theories. Even the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal challenged his credibility last Tuesday. They did this because, at this point, among sane people, he quite obviously has none.
Ezra Klein had noted that Paul Ryan played Donald Trump on the Obamacare replacement. Democrats didn’t like the bill. Independents didn’t like the bill. Conservatives didn’t like the bill. Moderates didn’t like the bill. All the energy behind this American Health Care Act was coming from inside the Republican congressional establishment – and Trump caved to them. He stood behind their stupid bill that would decimate his base, and everyone else. He just wanted a win. That’s a weak chief executive, uninterested in competent management or follow-through.
That won’t do. Trump has to counter that perception and move on, but Sullivan sees trouble looming:
I can see two possible scenarios that could follow a drawn-out Trump slump. One is the nightmare I’ve been having for more than a year now. A president hobbled domestically by his own party’s divisions and the opposition’s new energy may be tempted – Putin-like – to change the subject in a way that vaults him back to popularity. A foreign altercation from which he will not back down? A trade war? A smidge likelier, I’d say, is an over-the-top response to an inevitable jihadist terror attack in a major American city. A demagogue loses much of his power when he tries to wrestle complicated legislation through various political factions, in the way our gloriously inefficient Constitution requires. He regains it with rank fear, polarization, and a raw show of force. Heaven knows what the Constitution will look like once he’s finished.
The other possibility is that Trump really does at some point realize he’s sinking fast and decides on a hard pivot. He wants to win and be loved, and if he keeps losing and becomes more widely loathed with his current strategy, it’s by no means out of character for him to recalibrate. He could use the possible failure of Trumpcare to feed Paul Ryan to the Breitbartians, and reach out to Democrats on a tweaked Obamacare and infrastructure package. He could dump Bannon the way he dumped Manafort and bullshit his way through all the inconsistencies (the one thing he remains rather good at).
That’s most likely, and the bullshit begins:
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises – such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction – by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.
Yes, this businessman, one of the best there ever was, wants to run America like a business, an effort led by someone who knows nothing about government:
The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
And his daughter’s husband is just the guy to do that:
In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence. The 36-year-old former real estate and media executive will continue to wear many hats, driving foreign and domestic policy as well as decisions on presidential personnel. He also is a shadow diplomat, serving as Trump’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East.
In fact, Trump has said he’ll soon send Jared over there to do what no world leader or master diplomat has been able to do since Israel was established in 1947 – arrange total peace between Israel and the Palestinians forever from now on. Jared can do that in his spare time, but someone is “out” in all this:
The work of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has drawn considerable attention, especially after his call for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” But Bannon will have no formal role in the innovation office, which Trump advisers described as an incubator of sleek transformation as opposed to deconstruction.
Trump could dump Bannon the way he dumped Manafort? Trump just did, and put the other real expert on the team:
Ivanka Trump, the president’s elder daughter and Kushner’s wife, who now does her advocacy work from a West Wing office, will collaborate with the innovation office on issues such as workforce development but will not have an official role, aides said.
Her role cannot be official – those nepotism rules and all that. Even her husband is a stretch – but Trump is moving on. Forget that healthcare crap. America will finally be run like a business, with big profits for those private firms that provide services. That means they’ll do great work, to assure their profits. It will be wonderful. What could go wrong?
That’s something to consider, but not too closely. That’s also a diversion. The Washington Post reports that Trump, like the guy who uses Facebook to see how fat his ex-wives are now, was not moving on at all:
President Trump cast blame Sunday for the collapse of his effort to overhaul the health-care system on conservative interest groups and far-right Republican lawmakers, shifting culpability to his own party after initially faulting Democratic intransigence.
His attack – starting with a tweet that singled out the House Freedom Caucus as well as the influential Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America – marked a new turn in the increasingly troubled relationship between the White House and a divided GOP still adjusting to its unorthodox standard-bearer.
And it served as a warning shot with battles still to come on issues such as taxes and infrastructure that threaten to further expose Republican fractures that Trump will not hesitate to apply public pressure on those in his party he views as standing in the way.
Republican lawmakers are the ex-wives in this case:
Not long ago, many Republican leaders, even as they were wary of Trump’s unusual background and style, had considered his presidency a chance to finally unify the party around passing a long-sought policy agenda.
But now, in the health-care bill’s raw aftermath, Republican leaders are learning that the Trump presidency is doing little, if anything, to heal their party.
This marriage went bad, and it was time for vengeance:
Trump’s attack Sunday had the look of a coordinated effort.
His tweet appeared at 8:21 a.m. as official Washington prepared to tune into Sunday news shows: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”
Less than an hour later, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on television to echo his boss’s sentiments, saying his missive hit “the bull’s eye.”
As if to rub salt in the GOP’s wound, Priebus hinted that Trump may simply start looking past the Republican majority and try forging more consensus with moderate Democrats in future legislative battles.
To extend the metaphor, there are better and more pleasant and willing women in the world, and then there’s Charlie Dent, the Republican congressman who’s the co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group:
Although Trump targeted conservative opponents of the bill Sunday, he has also shown signs of frustration with its moderate critics. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dent acknowledged that Trump told him in a private meeting that he was “destroying the Republican Party” and that he “was going to take down tax reform,” as first reported by the New York Times magazine.
All Republicans are useless now, but they know that:
Doug Heye, a GOP strategist and former congressional aide, said Republicans’ inability to forge consensus on health care shook the party to the core.
“It’s hard to see where we can be successful, and it leads to a lot of questions as to whether Republicans can govern, even with a Republican in the White House,” he said.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a Republican former congressman who helped found the Freedom Caucus, was at a loss Sunday to explain why so many of those members were not prepared to vote for the health-care bill.
Speaking on “Meet the Press,” Mulvaney said that conservatives were not the only ones to blame, saying, “It was a bizarre combination of who was against this bill, some folks in the Freedom Caucus and then moderates on the other end of our spectrum.”
No one can move on now, but Donald Trump must know that he needs to move on, so he will try that:
Picking themselves up after the bruising collapse of their healthcare plan, President Trump and Republicans in Congress will start this week on a legislative obstacle course that will be even more arduous: the first overhaul of the tax code in three decades.
Mr. Trump’s inability to make good on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act has made the already daunting challenge of tax reform even more difficult. Not only has Mr. Trump’s aura of political invincibility been shattered, but without killing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will be unable to rewrite the tax code in the sweeping fashion that the president has called for.
The grand plans of lower rates, fewer loopholes and a tax on imports may have to be scaled back to a big corporate tax cut and possibly an individual tax cut.
It seems that the Republicans have already screwed themselves here:
Because of the arcane rules of lawmaking in Congress, there may be little choice. If Republicans intend to act again without the help of Democrats, they will need to use a procedure called budget reconciliation to have the Senate pass tax legislation with a simple majority. To make their changes to the tax code permanent, their plans cannot add to deficits over a period of 10 years.
Eliminating the $1 trillion of Affordable Care Act taxes and the federal spending associated with that law would have made this easier. Because they failed, Republicans will struggle to reach their goal of cutting corporate tax rates without piling on debt. Speaker Paul D. Ryan acknowledged on Friday, “This does make tax reform more difficult.”
Repealing the Obamacare taxes was essential. Oops. Now some compromises are necessary:
Under pressure to get something done, some Republican deficit hawks appear ready to abandon the fiscal rectitude that they embraced during the Obama administration to help salvage Mr. Trump’s agenda.
In a rare shift, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, whose House Freedom Caucus effectively torpedoed the health legislation, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he would not protest if tax cuts were not offset by new spending cuts or new streams of revenue, such as an import tax.
He’s now willing to explode the deficit to lower corporate taxes, and sweeten the pot for the very wealthy – the “job creators” of course – but that may not go well:
The health care failure also makes the tax overhaul more politically complex as the fissures within the Republican Party have been laid bare. Mr. Trump followed Mr. Ryan’s lead and lost, making it more likely that the White House will try to steer the direction of tax legislation.
“I would be surprised given the health law debacle if the Trump administration sits back and lets Congress fashion the legislation without weighing in on the substance,” said Michael J. Graetz, a tax law professor at Columbia University. “That is one of the lessons that the administration will take from the failure of the health bill.”
It remains unclear whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan are in agreement on taxes.
In short, Trump won’t let Ryan screw this up, and Ryan won’t let Trump screw this up, and there are other players too:
Mr. Trump is under added pressure not to again fail supporters who he promised would “get sick of all the winning.”
“They need to cut taxes, cut spending, and build the wall,” said Judson Phillips, the founder of the conservative group Tea Party Nation. “If they will do that, the base will be forever in love with them.” He said he did not want Mr. Trump to get bogged down in Mr. Ryan’s complicated tax agenda.
But after consuming the first two months of his presidency focused on health care, it is unclear how prepared Mr. Trump and his administration are to tackle taxes. The administration said last month that its tax plan was just weeks away, but nothing materialized. And the Treasury Department, which will take a leading role in crafting a plan, remains understaffed, with crucial policy positions unfilled and most of its leadership still awaiting Senate confirmation.
This cannot go well. Moving on is hard. Looking up your exes on Facebook is easy – but not letting go is deadly. That’s also sometimes impossible, and Donald Trump never lets go:
One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important… The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can’t take advantage of you… I’ve done it many times… I say it, and it’s so important. You have to, you have to hit back. You have to hit back.
You do? Trump won’t be moving on. Neither will America.