30 March 2017
Trump vs Freedom
Don't freak out. My headline is just an abbreviated way of introducing the impending showdown between the President and the self-styled House Freedom Caucus, a band of Representatives whom Trump blames for the effective defeat of his health insurance reform bill. The President tweeted out a threat today to primary Freedom Caucus members next year, to which the caucus has responded with protests that they, among congressional Republicans, are Trump's true friends. In simplest terms, the President wanted to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act," while the Freedom Caucus is interested mainly, if not exclusively, in "repeal." As fiscal conservatives, and no doubt as "personal responsibility" conservatives, they abhor the mandates and subsidies that the rest of the civilized world takes for granted. The President may say that he wants to make sure every American still has access to health insurance after "Obamacare," but the Freedom Caucus's position seems to be that if the Market can't provide for that it's none of the government's business. To the extent that Trump doesn't agree with that premise, he is not ideologically sound, but conflicts like these serve to remind us that a lack of ideological soundness or even coherence is probably one of this President's virtues. That's not to say that his bill would have been a fine thing, as it seemed to promise, at least as reported, only higher premiums for Trump's older base. But his determination to hold the Freedom Caucus, along with the Democrats, accountable for the bill's failure, and his apparent readiness to test his popularity in their enclaves, show something different from the bipolar thinking that characterizes Washington. Trump came to power as an insurgent within the Republican party and clearly intends to continue that role as President, despite charges from left and right alike that he has already been claimed or co-opted by "the swamp." If this means that the national debate on health insurance is going to become more than a matter of "yes to everything" vs. "no to everything," than Trump's first legislative defeat may be eclipsed in time by a real presidential accomplishment.