Every two years, Republican leaders browbeat their constituents into voting for them by pushing a noxious rhetorical cocktail that is one part thinly-veiled threats and two parts fearmongering. Now, either emboldened by the shameful success this dishonesty has had in the past few electoral cycles or out of a sense of desperation as the rank and file rebel against broken campaign promises, this tactic is being used in an internecine battle for healthcare reform.
The GOP’s moral case for itself has increasingly become rooted in a false dichotomous binary: “If you don’t vote for us, the other party will win. And they’re worse.” Now, they’re turning this sophistic rationale into the driving force behind their policy agenda.
The American Health Care Act, or TrumpCare, is being assailed from all sides and, rather than act like responsible leaders and adjust for the glaring deficiencies of the bill, President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have largely shrugged their shoulders at critics.
Instead, they’ve turned a moment that, after nearly 8 years of crusading against an immoral, statist and economically disastrous takeover of the healthcare industry, should be the apogee of modern conservative policy, into yet another litmus test of party loyalty.
Trump, buoyed by the tacit assent of Ryan, is even threatening members of his own party, apparently blind to the irony that he should do so after eviscerating anyone on the right who dared question him during the election. The self-appointed king of negotiation is refusing to deal on healthcare reform, telling Congress to either pass this bill or bear the consequences of electoral loss come 2018.
While it is possible that a default on the healthcare reform the GOP has been promising its base could cost the party control of one or maybe even both houses of Congress, it is Trump, not the legislature, which would bear responsibility for such a backlash.
Trump is the one who has drawn a line in the sand and dug his heels in; there is no rationale, beyond his own inane belief that failure now could derail his legislative agenda, which necessitates such intransigence. Besides, to pass the as-written bill is to renege on the GOP’s original campaign promise of a clean repeal of Obamacare. It may not be convenient for the current leadership to remember this, for it is they who have incorporated the enticements of giveaways and new entitlements to voters as a means of boosting themselves to a level of power where they could deliver on such seductions, but initial opposition to socialized medicine was rooted in the Constitutional principle that healthcare is not among the enumerated powers and therefore a usurpation of freedom.
Clearly, the president and Speaker Ryan have short memories. Fortunately, some outstanding members of the Senate— including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)—and House Freedom Caucus—including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)—more faithfully recall the original campaign promises they made to their constituents.
In attempting to twist the arms of those he sees as renegades, the president, after reaffirming his do-or-die mentality stated, according to a RealClearPolitics report, “The higher the vote, the better.”
The president appears to have forgotten on whose tolerance he serves. This vote is not a litmus test; it is the settling of a long-overdue draft made out to the grassroots right, many of whom became politically active and involved in campaigns over the unprecedented takeover of private industry and stripping of rights which ObamaCare entailed. If loyalty is on the line, it is the voters, many of whom swallowed the ridiculous “binary choice” narrative pushed by the party and voted for imperfect candidates purely so the bill could be repealed. It is they, not the president, who should be demanding a unanimous vote against this bill, for it defaults on the promise of repeal.
Trump’s attitude is insulting to those voters. It suggests they react and make electoral choices in accordance with his will. What’s more, it speaks to an alarming disregard for the status of the legislature as a coequal power. The president absolutely has every right to not sign a bill put before him, but he does not have the right to attempt to control the agenda of Congress by saying he will refuse to examine any duly-passed piece of legislation simply because he has decided to move on to issues he finds more appealing.
Besides, to suggest that the decision of individual representatives, who believe they are keeping faith to their constituents, does more damage to the party than to blindly follow the president’s command is ludicrous. The internal rifts between the establishment and the conservative wing were not healed by the 2016 election; the victory functioned as a miraculous scab, but over a very deep wound which still festers beneath and is likely to erupt again if not properly treated.
Also published on Medium.