The congressional GOP is AWOL.
.. Donald Trump is on the hunt for a scapegoat, and he has settled on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump presented himself to the voters as a master negotiator and dealmaker, but that of course was the character he played on television, not the actual man. Trump cannot sit down with congressional Republicans — much less a bipartisan coalition — and negotiate a deal on health-care reform. The reasons for this are straightforward:
There is disagreement among Republicans about what policies should be forwarded, and President Trump does not know what he himself thinks about any of them, because he does not think anything about any of them, because he doesn’t know about them. Trump does not do details — he does adjectives. He wants a “terrific” health-care system. So does Bernie Sanders, but the two of them don’t agree on what that means in practice.
.. In his decades as a vocal NAFTA critic, he has never offered in any specific detail any proposal for reforming any particular provision of NAFTA, and he has on occasion made it clear that he does not know what is actually in the accord.
.. His public statements about tax reform have been all over the map, out-lefting Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with his attacks on the carried-interest treatment of some financial firms’ income and then doing his best impersonation (which is a very poor one) of Larry Kudlow preaching the gospel of pro-growth tax cuts. He once reversed and then reverse-reversed himself on H-1B visas over the course of a few hours.
.. The wily McConnell and the steadfast Ryan were fine and effective opposition leaders. But they are not in the opposition any more.
.. The British dumped Winston Churchill after the war, considering him a wartime leader unsuited to the needs of peacetime. If McConnell and Ryan do not want to be considered opposition leaders — and if the Republican party does not want to be considered an opposition party incapable of government — then now is the time to give us all reason to think otherwise.
.. McConnell probably is safe for now, mainly because he has a job no one else wants. He is one of the few Republicans in the Senate not possessed by the delusion that he is fated to be president. If one of those promising young men bruised by the ugly 2016 Republican presidential primaries should ever come to his senses and decide that Senate majority leader is actually a pretty good job, things might go differently.
.. Marco Rubio actually has the political skills and personal ability to be a real leader in the Senate, but he doesn’t seem quite convinced that’s worth doing.
The damage from the GOP’s health-care debacle has only just begun, and the latest evidence is this week’s public spat between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The big potential winner here is Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
.. But Mr. Trump didn’t help the Senate by failing to make a public case for the GOP reforms. Not once did he explain, for example, that paring back ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion for able-bodied adults would protect health care for the truly needy. His failure to master even basic policy details made him useless as a public advocate.
.. a major political risk from the health-care defeat is that Mr. Trump concludes he should start running against the GOP majority.
They might prefer to run in 2020 against Mr. Schumer than with Mr. McConnell.
.. They need each other in particular this autumn to
- raise the debt ceiling,
- press deregulation, and
- pass a budget and
- tax reform.
Failure on that agenda after the health-care fiasco will open the door to a Democratic House—which means nonstop anti-Trump investigations and perhaps impeachment. The best defense against mutual assured political destruction is legislative success in the fall.
The Democratic Party, whose long-ago New Deal was built in part on Catholic social thought, has become increasingly secular and ever-more-doctrinaire in its social liberalism.
.. The Republican Party, which under George W. Bush wrapped the Catholic-inflected language of “compassionate conservatism” around its pro-life commitments, has been pinballing between an Ayn Rand-ish libertarianism and the white identity politics of the Trump era.
.. Its seems to intend, reasonably enough, to
- warn against Catholic support for the darker tendencies in Trumpism — the xenophobia and identity politics, the “stigmatization of enemies,”
- the crude view of Islam and a wider “panorama of threats,”
- the prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success.
.. the religious votes for the cheerfully pagan Trump and the growing interest in
- radicalism and
.. Between Leo XIII and the Second Vatican Council, Rome gradually made its peace with secular and liberal government, and embraced a style of Catholic politics that worked comfortably within the liberal order, rather than against its grain. And the church has good prudential reasons not to lean in too far to any kind of populism or post-liberalism, lest it lead toward authoritarianism or simple disaster.
.. their evident paranoia about what the Americans are up to, you see a different spirit: a fear of novelty and disruption, and a desire for a church that’s
- primarily a steward of social peace,
- a mild and ecumenical presence,
- a moderate pillar of the establishment in a stable and permanently liberal age.
Over just a few days last week, President Trump and his allies stepped up attacks on Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the campaign’s connections to Russia. They tried to push Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of office. They thought out loud about whether the president can pardon himself.
This all points to the same conclusion: Mr. Trump is willing to deal a major blow to the rule of law — and the American Republic — in order to end an independent investigation into his Russia ties.
.. In their first years in office, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Viktor Orban in Hungary claimed that they wanted to fix, rather than cripple, democratic institutions. Even as it became clear that these strongmen sought to consolidate power, most of their opponents told themselves that they were saving their courage for the right moment. By the time the full extent of the danger had become incontrovertible, it was too late to mount an effective resistance.
.. But in other respects the United States is already well on the way to what I have, in my academic work, called “democratic deconsolidation.” Mr. Trump is increasingly emulating the playbook of popularly elected strongmen who have done deep, lasting damage to their countries’ democratic institutions.
.. around 40 percent of voters — and some 80 percent of Republicans — approve of his performance. A number of Republican senators and congressmen have reportedly objected to Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Sessions and voted against parts of his legislative agenda, but most have yet to oppose him publicly.
.. If Mr. Trump fires Mr. Mueller, Congress can ask him to continue his investigation under the auspices of the legislative branch.
And if Mr. Trump pardons himself, disregards court rulings or blatantly oversteps the boundaries of his legitimate authority in some other way, Congress should impeach him.
.. There may never be a time when we know for sure that this decision, today, will determine whether the American republic lives or dies.