Nancy has already covered Mitch McConnell’s latest gambit, to repeal Obamacare (with a delay) without replacing it. It is, in effect, a way of punishing his own members for not submitting to his leadership. They will be forced to go on the record as either unconscionable arsonists or as betrayers on the one true belief.
McConnell’s caucus is not happy, as Molly Ball explains in the Atlantic, yet they seem to be giving the president a pass on this so far. Instead, senators are pointing fingers at their leadership and at the House, while House members are yelling right back.
A House Republican staffer described the fractious mood on Capitol Hill as “Republican-on-Republican violence.” As for why lawmakers don’t train their ire on the real root of their problems, the staffer shrugged: “Maybe it’s just easier to attack people without 13 million Twitter followers.”
A lot of people seem mystified about why Donald Trump won’t give up his Twitter habit considering that it has caused him so many political and legal problems. But this helps explain his rationale. He doesn’t actually have much power in the Washington DC, but his army of online supporters helps him intimidate other Republicans and keep them somewhat in line.
Trump is historically unpopular for a newly-minted president. He’s polling in the same neighborhood as Gerald Ford right after he pardoned Richard Nixon. More people say they want Trump removed from office than said that about Nixon right before Nixon actually resigned. But Republican voters still support him and Congress is extremely unpopular, which means that Trump is likely to win a pissing war with critics from within his adopted party. If Trump were to go into the defensive shell his lawyers are recommending for him, he’d lose the little bit of clout that he actually has.
Of course, it was on Twitter that Trump announced that he wanted a vote in the Senate on the repeal-and-don’t-replace bill that the Republicans passed in 2015 only to see it vetoed by President Obama. And McConnell quickly acceded to his demand.
It’s not a strategy for success. It’s an angry response to failure that punishes even the senators who were willing to walk off a cliff for the president. They want some plausible deniability so they can flexibly respond to critics on the campaign trail. They want to be able to say that they were willing to support Obamacare repeal but at the same time deny that they would have supported the specific harmful things contained in the bill. Trump wants to take this away from them and force them to vote for an enormously unpopular bill that will never become law. The Democrats can’t believe their luck.