Nobody knows whether the House GOP health bill will pass today, or even whether it will get voted on — the vote could get postponed again, even though President Trump has demanded this vote or else he will allow Republicans to languish under the oppression of Obamacare forever (yes, it’s possible this is a bluff). The White House isn’t sure it has the votes. The whip counts show enough opposition to sink it. But a last-minute shift that puts it over the line is definitely possible.
Still, here are a few things we already know: Even if Trump “wins” and the bill passes, this whole process has been an utter disaster from start to finish. The media analysis is already being framed in a way that will obscure this from view. And Trump himself is determined not to learn the right lessons from the whole mess — no matter what happens.
The New York Times reports today that Trump is bracing for a possible loss, and he’s already moving to pin the blame on Paul Ryan if it fails …
Meanwhile, top Trump adviser Stephen K Bannon is also moving to blame Ryan for a loss, New York Magazine reports, by distancing himself from the bill and blaming Ryan for the fact that it doesn’t drive down costs. And so, if the bill goes down, the story will become whether Trump can shift the blame to Ryan and move on to other things, as Bannon apparently hopes to do. In this telling, the reason the bill failed (or the reason it was so close to tanking, if it prevails) will be that the White House underestimated the difficulty of getting the bill passed, or had too much faith in Ryan’s ability to do so.
The White House — and Republicans — also thought they could render the policy specifics and procedural challenges meaningless through sheer force of bluster. They attacked the Congressional Budget Office’s credibility in advance, but that only left them flatfooted and unprepared when the CBO did find that enormous numbers will lose coverage, which ended up weighing heavily on moderates, despite efforts to undercut its findings in advance. They opted for an absurdly compressed time frame, which alienated moderates and even some conservatives.
Indeed, the Times‘s reporting confirms that Trump never cared much about the policy or the process …
Yet there is no recognition, anywhere, that this might have been part of the problem all along. Worse, all of this will only be obscured if the bill passes, because the coverage is being framed as an epic gamble in which Trump either emerges as the heroic risk-taking “closer” or an abject failure at “dealmaking.” If he succeeds, the closeness of the vote bolsters the “closer” narrative. If he falls short, the failing was personal.