Bannon’s grand ambitions should inspire the same soul-deadening déjà vu, the existential exhaustion, with which Bill Murray’s weatherman greeted every morning in Punxsutawney, Penn. They should bring to mind both Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence and his warning that if you stare deep into the abyss, it stares into you.
.. What Bannon is promising is what the Tea Party actually delivered, in a past recent enough to still feel like the present: a dramatic ideological shake-up, an end to D.C. business-as-usual, and the elevation of new leaders with a sweeping vision for a new G.O.P.
.. The ideological shake-up took the form of paper promises, not successful legislation. The end to D.C. business-as-usual just created a new normal of brinkmanship and gridlock. And when the Tea Party’s leaders — Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, above all — reached out to claim their party’s presidential nomination, they found themselves steamrolled by a candidate who scorned all their limited-government ideas and offered, well, Trumpism instead.
.. when it comes to governance, Trumpism turns to have two fatal weaknesses:
- the dearth of Trumpists among elected Republicans, and
- the total policy incapacity of Trump himself.
So having failed in his appointed role as Trump whisperer and White House brain, Bannon has decided to do the Tea Party insurgency thing all over again, except this time with his
- nationalist-populist cocktail instead of the
- last round’s notional libertarianism.
.. Maybe the Tea Party was a dead end, but some Trumpist primary candidates will finally produce a Republican Party capable of doing something with its power.
.. His professed nationalism, with its promise of infrastructure projects and antitrust actions and maybe even tax hikes on the rich, is potentially more popular than the Tea Party vision ..
.. But this imaginative exercise collapses when you look at Bannon’s own record and the candidates he’s recruiting... At the White House, Bannon did not manage to inject much heterodoxy into any part of the same old, same old Republican agenda. But he did encourage the president to pick racialized fights at every chance... his new grass-roots populism promises to be more of the same:
- a notional commitment to some nebulous new agenda,
- with white-identity politics and the
- fear of liberalism supplying the real cultural-political cement... Especially because the would-be senators he’s recruiting are a mix of cynics and fanatics who seem to share no coherent vision, just a common mix of ambition and resentment... if you believe figures like Roy Moore and Erik Prince are going to succeed where Trump is obviously failing, I have some affidavits attesting to Harvey Weinstein’s innocence to sell you... He and his allies are the latest group to recognize the void at the heart of the contemporary Republican Party, the vacuum that somebody, somehow needs to fill.
- .. The activists and enforcers of the Tea Party era tried with a libertarian style of populism.
- Paul Ryan tried with his warmed-over Jack Kempism.
- My friends the “reform conservatives” tried with blueprints for tax credits and wage subsidies.
.. now they, too, need to reckon with a reality that has confounded every kind of Republican reformer since Barack Obama was elected: Our politics are probably too polarized, our legislative branch too gridlocked, and the conservative movement too dysfunctional and self-destructive to build a new agenda from the backbenches of Congress up, or even from the House speaker or Senate majority leader’s office.
.. Our system isn’t really all that republican anymore; it’s imperial, and even an incompetent emperor like Trump is unlikely to restore the legislative branch to its former influence. So if you want to remake the Republican Party as something other than a shambolic repository for anti-liberalism, the only way it’s likely to happen is from the top down —
- with the election of an effective, policy-oriented conservative president (which Donald Trump is not),
- surrounded by people who understand the ways of power (which Bannon, for all his bluster, didn’t) and
- prepared to both negotiate with Democrats and bend his own party to his will.
.. I would not be wasting my time trying to elect a few cranks and gadflies who will make Mitch McConnell’s life more difficult.
Instead I would be looking for the thing that too many people deceived themselves into believing Trump might be, and that Bannonite populism for all its potential strength now lacks: a leader.
You can get elected as an outsider, but once in office, you have to actually govern.
The conservative movement is caught in a Catch-22 of its own making. In the war against “the establishment,” we have made being an outsider the most important qualification for a politician. The problem? Once elected, outsiders by definition become insiders. This isn’t just a semantic point. The Constitution requires politicians to work through the system if they’re going to get anything done.
.. Look at all the senators who rode the tea-party wave into power: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee. To one extent or another, they are now seen as swamp things, not swamp drainers, by the pitchfork populists.
.. Merely talking like a halfway responsible politician — “we don’t have the votes,” “we have to pay for it” — is proof of selling out. Trump bashes NBC News as ‘Fake News’ on Twitter
.. He wore the animosity of his colleagues, including the GOP leadership, like a badge of honor. He was the leader of the insurrectionists. He had only one problem: He talked like a creature of the establishment — largely because the Princeton- and Harvard-trained former Supreme Court clerk and career politician was one. He knew the lyrics to every populist fight song, but he couldn’t carry the tune.
..But not only did Donald Trump jump into the fray at the height of populist fervor, the field was also divided 17 ways. No one spoke less like a politician. No one who understood how governing works would have promised the things Trump promised —
- health coverage for all, for less money,
- eliminate the debt,
- bring all those jobs back, etc. —
because they’d either know or care that such things are literally impossible.
.. The establishment remains the villain and Trump the hero for his willingness to say or tweet things that make all the right people angry. For his most ardent supporters, the fault for his legislative failures lies entirely with the swamp, the establishment, or the “Deep State.”
.. he most important factor was Moore’s demonization of the establishment, particularly Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The voters valued sticking their thumbs in the establishment’s eye more than giving Trump a win.
.. there is remarkably little intellectual or ideological substance to the current populist fever. Strange was more conservative than Moore but less bombastic. Moore opposed Obamacare repeal and, until recently, couldn’t say what DACA was. In other words, MAGA populism is less of an agenda and more of a mood.
A majority is a terrible thing to waste.
On the cusp of a historic failure, the party has begun the finger-pointing, and it’s hard to argue with any of it.
- The establishment is right that Trump is incapable of true legislative leadership.
- The Trumpists are right that the establishment is ineffectual.
- Conservatives are right that moderates don’t really want to repeal Obamacare, whatever they’ve said in the past.
- And pragmatists are right that a few conservatives are beholden to a self-defeating purity.
.. At least Collins, an ideological outlier in the Republican Conference, has been consistent. She voted against the repeal-only bill in 2015, and the GOP leadership never thought she was gettable.
.. For Rand Paul, clearly, a perhaps once-in-a-generation opportunity to significantly reform two entitlement programs isn’t as important as scoring cheap points against his colleagues in the cause of getting as many cable hits as possible.
.. it’s particularly important that the Utah senator keep the big picture in view; torpedoing the entire effort over a relatively technical question about the insurance risk pools — Lee’s current posture — would be a disastrous mistake.
A vocal conservative opponent of the measure, Sen. Rand Paul, predicted the delay would strengthen critics’ position by giving them more time to mobilize against the bill.
“The longer the bill is out there, the more conservative Republicans are going to discover it is not repeal,” Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Paul said he spoke with Trump on Friday and suggested the president support repealing the Affordable Care Act and deciding the details of a replacement plan later if the latest version of the bill does not pass.
.. Trump administration officials failed to gain support from influential Republicans such as Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R). Opposition from Sandoval and others will make it easier for undecided Republican senators from those states to vote “no” on the bill, potentially further endangering its prospects.
.. (63 percent) believes it is more important for the government to provide health coverage to low-income people compared with cutting taxes (27 percent). Among Republicans, 48 percent favored cutting taxes, compared with 39 percent who favored providing health coverage for low-income people.
.. “President Trump and I believe the Senate health-care bill strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society,” Pence said
.. Collins strongly disagreed in an interview Sunday with CNN.
“You can’t take more than $700 billion out of the Medicaid program and not think that it’s going to have some kind of effect,” she said during an appearance on “State of the Union.”
.. “This bill imposes fundamental, sweeping changes in the Medicaid program, and those include very deep cuts that would affect some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including disabled children and poor seniors. It would affect our rural hospitals and our nursing homes, and they would have a very hard time even staying in existence.”
.. Pence’s speech was criticized by Democrats, health-care advocates and even some Republicans for mischaracterizing the possible ramifications of the GOP bill.
.. During the same speech, the vice president went after Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a critic of the legislation, by suggesting his state’s expansion of Medicaid left nearly 60,000 residents with disabilities “stuck on waiting lists, leaving them without the care they need for months or even years.”
The claim alienated many at the meeting, partly because waiting lists for Medicaid’s home- and community-based services were not affected by the program’s expansion under the ACA, and partly because many interpreted Pence’s remark as an overly aggressive shot at Kasich. The Ohio governor’s stance against the bill could shape the position of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a pivotal vote for Republicans who is undecided on the current version. Some fear Pence missed an opportunity to woo Portman with his remark against Kasich.
.. Collins estimated Sunday that there are eight to 10 Republican senators with “serious concerns”
.. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, worked to undermine that report and a forthcoming analysis by the Congressional Budget Office showing the legislation’s cost and insurance impact.
.. The Avalere study projected marked reductions in federal Medicaid funding to all 50 states, ranging from 27 percent to 39 percent by 2036.