08 March 2017
The first big inter-Republican showdown is shaping up as Congress considers a "repeal and replace" healthcare bill supported by the President and the Speaker of the House, but opposed by many movement conservatives. Democrats also oppose the legislation, claiming that millions of people will be stripped of coverage, but some may come around should they become convinced that it's the best deal they can get in the face of conservative opposition, especially if conservative opposition proves so strong that Speaker Ryan finds himself needing Democratic votes. Trump and Ryan find themselves in what should prove a comfortable middle position between Democrats who want no retrenchment whatsoever and conservative ideologues who seem to object to any public subsidy for personal health insurance, but whether any middle ground on this subject is tenable is open to debate. I'm already hearing some Trump fans complain about the bill as a Republican betrayal of their constituents because they've heard it will force their premiums even higher than they've risen under the Affordable Care Act. So far, however, it doesn't sound like they blame the President, and as long as he can appear to stand above the fray he has some room to maneuver, either to push for amendments in response to his "forgotten" base or simply to save face. Reporters and opinionators claim that "repeal and replace" will be the first real test of Trump's ability to "deal" with congressional Republicans. He's already brought out the stick, reportedly warning of a primary "bloodbath" if the legislation fails, while the carrots may not be as visible to untrained observers. The impending struggle may also prove a test of what Trump really stands for on domestic politics. On the campaign trail, he gave indications that he didn't believe the "free market solves all problems" philosophy of the health bill's opponents. Will he be willing to challenge that orthodoxy openly in defense of the bill? Meanwhile, Trump's "populism" usually has been understood in the negative terms of who or what he's against. We may see now what it means in a positive sense, and what the President really believes is necessary for the well-being of his people.