President Donald Trump cannot fail. President Trump can only be failed.
Trump and his allies tell us so. He can only be failed - by the filibuster (never mind that no GOP repeal bill got 50 Senate votes); by the “Fake News” media, which fails to honestly report on his smashing successes; and even by Republican congressional leaders, who have let the Russia probes get out of hand and secretly oppose his agenda.
The Washington Post and The Washington Examiner have remarkable stories on Thursday morning that portray the Republican Party as gripped by an internal war of recriminations over the fact that Trump has not signed any major accomplishments.
The Post reports that Republicans believe religious-right extremist Roy Moore's victory in the Alabama GOP Senate primary was driven by an angry grass-roots backlash at Congress' failure to realise Trump's agenda, and they expect more to come. As Senator David Perdue (Republican-Georgia), a Trump ally, puts it: “People are upset that Republican senators are not backing the agenda of this president.”
The Examiner, meanwhile, reports that congressional Republicans are raging because a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence told a gathering of GOP donors that the GOP Congress is selling out the president and that disloyal Republicans should perhaps be removed in 2018. He said: “If we're going to be in the minority again, we might as well have a minority who are with us as opposed to a minority who helped us become a minority.”
This entire narrative is a fiction. Or rather, this entire narrative contains a large truth wrapped in fictional packaging. The truth this story line contains is that Trump is not racking up any major accomplishments - which is to say, he is failing. This is the tacit admission of Trump's own allies. But this admission of failure is packaged in a fictional explanation: that Trump is failing because GOP leaders (or the “Republican establishment,” as Steve Bannon puts it) want his agenda to fail.
But what has really happened is not that congressional Republicans have sold out on some supposed Trump agenda that is different from theirs. Rather, Trump and Republicans have jointly failed to deliver on the agenda that they agree upon. Trump went all in on every version of Obamacare repeal-and-replace that was pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Those failed not because the GOP establishment didn't want what Trump wanted, but rather because a handful of GOP senators baulked at the manner in which repeal-and-replace was constructed, while still supporting that general goal. Similarly, Trump is campaigning hard for the huge tax cuts for the wealthy that McConnell and Ryan want, and if there are any disagreements, they mostly reside in the details. (What about trade and infrastructure, you say? It remains to be seen whether Trump even has any serious agenda on either front.)
The difficulties Trump and Republicans are facing on tax reform - and the failure of repeal - both tell the same story: The real cause is the inability to translate the general goals they agree on into serious policies. As blogger Brian Beutler notes, this represents years of GOP bad faith on policy catching up with the party. Repeal failed because GOP lies about their professed replacement goals collided violently with the reality that it would leave millions uninsured. Now, on tax reform, the GOP agenda, which is being sold as a tax cut for working and middle classes, is colliding with the reality that the plan itself is primarily a tax cut for the rich.
The tax cuts may still happen. But as of now, the failure of those lies is being layered over with a new set of lies that purport to explain that failure, but don't. In a bit of poetic justice, even Republicans are now lamenting that the nature of the anger among the GOP base over the inaction (which is the result of the base being lied to) could make more failure likely. GOP voters picked Moore over Luther Strange, who would have voted for the GOP repeal bill, even as Moore would not have, meaning he's an obstacle to future repeal efforts. Strange would have been a more reliable vote for tax reform than Moore (if he wins) will be.
The fact that Trump and Republicans continue to believe a large chunk of the country (the GOP base) must be lied to relentlessly and at all costs is dispiriting on its own. But it makes progress harder in other ways. Trump and Republicans continue to tell the lie that Obamacare has collapsed, which makes it harder to reach a bipartisan deal to shore up the exchanges, since that would require admitting that the law is not doomed to failure. Trump and Republicans continue to push the fiction that we desperately need a costly wall on the southern border, which makes it harder to reach a reasonable settlement on the “Dreamers,” since the base now will not countenance a deal in which Trump “loses” on the wall. Trump and his allies continue to insist that the Russia probes are hoaxes designed to destroy our persecuted president, which makes it harder to have a sane discussion about how to prevent sabotage of future elections.
How we get out of this cycle is anybody's guess, since it is clear that Trump and Republicans don't view it as an option to just stop lying so damn much.
The Washington Post