Following national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe, a confidant of the president told Politico that “[Trump] is tired of everyone thinking his presidency is screwed up.”
Free advice, President Trump: The best way to disprove perceptions that you’re screwing up is to stop screwing up.
He won’t, though, and his party certainly isn’t helping him. While a plurality of the problems that currently plague our government trace back to the Tweeter-in-Chief, the broader Republican failure to make meaningful policy progress — despite controlling Congress and the White House — predates Trump and his manifold inadequacies.
Ironically, the GOP’s most beloved practice, gerrymandering, may well be the party’s tragic flaw.
Following the 2010 census, Republican state legislatures across the country created ideologically hegemonic districts with few dissenters.
This protected the Republican majority in the House of Representatives but also brought about a class of congressmen for whom reelection is so sure that incentives to compromise are nonexistent. These congressmen were not elected to govern but to inhibit governance; for them, obstruction has overtaken ideas.
Perhaps no one can summarize the stumbling blocks of the GOP better than its head cheerleader, Speaker Paul Ryan.
“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do. You just had to be against it. Now, in three months’ time, we tried to go to a governing party where we actually had to get 216 people to agree with each other on how we do things.” It was, he said, “the growing pains of government.”
The statement shows admirable introspection on Ryan’s part. For the past eight years, the philosophy of the Republican Party was defined by indignant talking points and unrelenting ideological opposition to President Barack Obama’s agenda without a coherent agenda of their own.
As a party, they haven’t passed substantive legislation since 2005. They made few compromises with Democrats and only when necessary to sidestep government shutdowns. Sometimes, they couldn’t do even that.
Now, however, the party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty opposition is in charge of governing and they have already choked.
For years, they protested the Affordable Care Act vehemently promising that something better was just around the corner. Trump leapt aboard the train during his campaign. “I’ll repeal and replace with something terrific,” he noted in July. But Ryan failed in whipping votes for the half-baked American Health Care Act, which was introduced and withdrawn in a span of just 16 days and achieved the remarkable accomplishment of uniting much of Washington — though in this case, in opposition rather than in support.
Republicans had seven years to develop an alternative to Obamacare and the end result was the worst of both worlds; enough like Obamacare to alienate the Freedom Caucus and weak enough to deprive millions of Americans — many of them working-class Trump voters — of health coverage. This legislative belly flop was no “Better Way,” Speaker Ryan.
It was an irresponsible and ignorant version of the old laissez-faire system of healthcare complete with the gouging of big pharma and insurance companies. In the words of Rep. Alan Grayson, “if you get sick, die quickly.”
Obstruction does not constitute an agenda and unless the GOP has a serious wake-up call, the country will be left with both a Congress with no capacity to govern and a president incapable of governing.
It is possible that sinking approval ratings will force Congress to govern. It is possible that the White House will learn to lead. It is possible that tomorrow, rain will fall upwards.
Certainly, Americans and the rest of the world must hold our collective breath and pray that nothing irrevocably awful transpires. And we must wait for the elections of 2018 and 2020 to set things right.