President Donald J. Trump is, very likely, aware of three things when it comes to the Republican Party. He knows that the party’s old guard – the establishment centrists – are mostly working against him. He also knows that failure to make progress on Obamacare repeal will hurt both him and the party in 2018 and 2020. Lastly, he knows that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has neither the fortitude nor the support to repeal the Affordable Care Act and, perhaps, lacks any real desire to do so. Trump’s recent attacks on McConnell, therefore, are calculated to distance himself from the senator, should the latter fail to get new health care legislation to the president’s desk.
For the second time in as many days, the president scolded the Senate leader on Twitter Thursday for failing to produce either a full repeal – or replacement – of the former president’s disastrous signature health care legislation. “Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for seven years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” Trump wrote.
On Wednesday, Trump fired back at McConnell for remarks made at a Rotary Club meeting in Kentucky Monday. “Senator Mitch McConnell said I had “excessive expectations,” but I don’t think so. After seven years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?” He tweeted. McConnel had devoted part of his Rotary Club address to making excuses for the lack of progress on health care. Citing the “reality of the complexity of legislating” and the president’s inexperience in government, McConnell said that he found criticism of the lack of progress “extremely irritating.”
Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before. And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.
Trump isn’t the only one who is frustrated with the inertia in Congress and, specifically, in the Senate, however. Many Republican voters have been wondering why the party has, thus far, failed to make good on its years-old promise to repeal Obamacare – a promise that has brought them victory in recent midterm elections, in addition to the general election of 2016. The Republican Party’s slim majority in the Senate allows for no dissent, and it took just seven undocumented Democrats within the GOP ranks to scuttle the last attempt at full repeal.
The 2020 general election could well turn out to be a pivotal moment for the Republican Party as the Trump wing squares off against a bizarre alliance of establishment GOP and never-Trump conservatives. Despite recent polls showing Trump’s approval rating in the gutter, the President – given his optimism and self-confidence – may well believe that victory in this potential power struggle is his for the taking. A Gallup poll published August 9 gives Congress a 16% approval rating, nationally – well below even the president’s dismal figure. According to the poll, just 16% of Republican voters and 12% of Democrat voters are happy with the legislative branch. While Democrats’ approval of Congress has been extremely low since January, approval among the nation’s Republicans has plummeted 12 percentage points in less than one month. Gallup’s daily tracking of presidential approval ratings has Trump at 36%.
Although Senator McConnell’s seat is safe until 2020, it would seem almost incredible that he would survive for much longer as Majority Leader if he is not able to shepherd a robust – and popular – health care bill through the Senate before the end of this year. Trump wants to move on to tax reform and infrastructure but the Affordable Healthcare Act, an imploding law that Republicans cannot fix and will not repeal, stands in the way. Were the Democratic Party to formulate anything resembling an appealing economic agenda, the GOP would be in real trouble next year. The Republican voter must ask his or herself this question, then: Should the party deliver on health care and, in the process, heal the divide between the pro- and anti-Trump factions or stick with the centrist establishment’s thumb-twiddling, slash-and-burn to thwart the president and hand the Democrats a huge opportunity?