Republicans once hoped that if the GOP controlled Washington, a shared focus on legislative goals—and the power of the White House political office—could defuse the intense factionalism that has fueled nasty primaries for the last seven years.
Instead, as voters head to the polls to vote in Alabama’s hotly contested primary on Tuesday and other GOP primary races take shape across the country, it’s apparent that party divisions in the Trump era are only widening.
Republican lawmakers offered some of their most pointed criticism of their president this weekend after President Donald Trump failed to directly blame neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead.
But they had already been starting to lean away from him. In the span of a month, Trump has found himself at odds first with Republicans in the Senate as he publicly berated one of their friends and a former colleague, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then with the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell himself, over health care. This weekend, Trump faced pushback from the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Cory Gardner, who called on the president to explicitly condemn white supremacists. (Trump still has not directly done so, instead sending a message through a spokesperson 36 hours after protests erupted.)
Maybe you’ll start your day with a pink smoothie bowl, full of chia seeds and raspberries and other pink fruits. On your way to work, you’ll pick up a Starbucks pink drink — a “crisp, Strawberry Acai Refreshers Beverage, with … accents of passion fruit” and an Instagram cult following. For lunch? A bowl of pink beet hummus, maybe garnished with some suddenly everywhere watermelon radish, the perfect shade of fuchsia. Wash it down with a blush-colored can of La Croix. Dessert? An array of pink macarons. For happy hour, the choices are abundant: pink cans of rosé, pink gin, pink tequila, bottles of wine with names like Summer Water and Pretty Young Thing, or frozen rosé (frosé). If you live in New York, you can eat pink spaghetti at Pietro Nolita, a restaurant with pink walls, bathrooms, chairs and napkins that say “Pink as F—.”
And at the end of the day, if all this pink food is inspiring a sudden queasiness, you can wash it all down with pink Pepto-Bismol.
President Trump tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, you see, cannot prevent the president from revealing his self-delusions and own ignorance. Once again, we see Trump’s inability to recognize the danger posed to us by Russia and, worse, his own conduct in forcing Congress to act on its own initiative.
For starters, Russia brought this on itself by meddling in our elections and those of our European allies, invading neighbors, backing the murderous Syrian regime and engaging in domestic repression. Trump refuses to take issue with all that or to acknowledge that such conduct is contrary to U.S. interests. By blaming Congress, he once again does Russian President Vladimir Putin’s water-carrying. Blaming the West and casting Russia as the innocent victim come straight from the Russian propaganda playbook.
Trumps prefers not only to avoid identifying or punishing Russia but also shows no interest in protecting American democracy. Numerous intelligence officials have testified before Congress in open session that Trump has never asked them about Russian cyberespionage or anti-Western propaganda. Think about it. Trump will not acknowledge, let alone do something about the tactics of our chief international foe. He prefers that Congress do nothing — just appease and avoid Russia’s ire. That’s the sort of attitude conservatives in Congress and in the foreign policy community would have virulently criticize President Barack Obama for adopting (and did).
The question then presents itself: Is the president willing to counter an identified threat to U.S. national security, and will his administration follow the law in staffing and developing programs to do just that? So far the answer to both is “no.”
The president seems convinced that he can survive whatever comes his way as long as he keeps his much-celebrated political base with him. But this is not as easy as it sounds for either Trump or his party because his base is fundamentally divided.
Nothing illustrated this more dramatically than the health-care showdown. Trump’s rhetoric about the Affordable Care Act during last year’s campaign should have been a tipoff to the dilemma both he and conservative politicians confront now. On the one hand, he roundly denounced Obamacare, which made right-wing ideologues happy. But he also regularly promised an alternative that would be more, not less, generous in helping Americans of modest means.
Trump is so hungry for “wins” that he is still pushing the Senate to pass any bill to repeal Obamacare. But enacting proposals along the lines of those that failed last week would be the worst possible outcome for Trump because they effectively break the promises he made to nearly 40 percent of his own sympathizers.
Senate Republicans who want to back away from repeal, at least for now, seem more attuned to how disruptive this issue is. But the looming battle over deep tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy will also split the alliance Trump is counting on for survival.
Political leaders trying to hold diverse groups together need to demonstrate finesse and both the appearance and reality of successful governance. Finesse, needless to say, is not a Trump long suit. And every day that brings a new Trump revelation, new questions about Russia or sheer craziness puts increased pressure on a rickety alliance that can only bear so much. When Trump most needs that base of his, it may no longer be there.
By Howard Gleckman
Image courtesy of Tom Williams
You hear it all the time these days: Republicans should just move on to tax reform. It will be so much easier than overhauling the law on healthcare.
No, it won’t. Indeed, if the GOP thinks replacing the Affordable Care Act has been a nightmare, just wait until they try to reform the tax code.
Tax reform, at least the version that raises the same amount of revenue as the current code, will create far more losers than a health bill. It will divide the business lobby, produce a storm of criticism from charities and home builders, and set off a firestorm among political ideologues. It will sow confusion and uncertainty among ordinary taxpayers. And it will split congressional coalitions, not just by party, but by geography.
Think of it this way: Nearly two-thirds of Americans get insurance through their employers, Medicare, or the military, and they would be largely immune from changes to the ACA. By contrast, nearly every American and all businesses could be touched by a major tax bill. Even those who currently pay no federal income tax could be at risk, depending on how reform is structured.