On Friday, after a contentious week on the Hill, with GOP whips failing to scrounge up enough support for their spectacularly awful healthcare initiative, the bill was pulled from consideration in the House of Representatives.
Amazing news right? Well not quite, sure the failure represents a symbolic victory for the Democrats, but at what cost? Now, dealing with a fragmented and unhinged GOP, we can assuredly expect more divisive means of stripping efficacy from the Affordable Care Act in the form of riders secreted away in omnibus legislation, and a bevy of other partisan tactics honed through the time-honored tradition of spending decades dismantling Medicare and Medicaid. There is also the fact that the House Freedom Caucus was able to derail the process. This isn’t a good indication by any means, the caucus is relatively new, but as far right as one can get on the spectrum and if the president gives in, working with a group that was silently responsible for the removal of Boehner, things could go from zero to eleven over the coming months.
The more important take away from this utter failure of a cornerstone policy initiative, a version of which Trump showcased throughout his campaign, is that the executive branch has little to no command over the party, a master of the Bully Pulpit Trump is not. The foreseeable future looks incredibly bleak for any legislative initiative that the executive branch throws its weight behind.
Historically, the first one-hundred days spent in office are seen as a litmus test in which academics and policy wonks alike see as a crucial insight into the rest of the term, but what the American people have seen thus far is a man from Mars unraveling under the pressure of Beltway politics in grand fashion.
Man from Mars you say? Yes, Man from Mars, it’s a great analogy really, one which I picked up and started using in my undergraduate years. I had spent some months researching presidential power for my undergraduate thesis, reading all the required texts from Schlesinger’s foundational work “The Imperial Presidency,” to Skrownek’s more contemporary “The Politics Presidents Make,” when I stumbled upon a book called “Inside U.S.A,” written by John Gunther in 1947. It is an excellent snapshot of American politics, a survey of American Democracy written in the fashion of Tocqueville or Bryce, but from the perspective of explaining such a complex system to an outsider, the proverbial Man from Mars.
But I digress, we all know that Trump is an outsider, hell, he ran on the fact that he wasn’t from Washington and that he would “Drain the Swamp,” but what he didn’t count on was the crushing tedium of the legislative process. Sure he blindly signed a bevy of Executive Orders, but did he really know what he was signing? My money is on no.
For now, at least, this signals a turning of the tide, outside of misguided Executive Orders, Trump has little to no sway on the Hill. I could be wrong, but party fragmentation ultimately worked against Nixon, and Trump said he was The Law and Order candidate. So…there is that.
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