What a difference a year makes

Published 3:00 am Friday, July 21, 2017

A year ago this week, newly anointed as his party’s candidate for president, Donald J. Trump capped the Republican National Convention in Cleveland by ascending the podium in the Quicken Loans Arena, and offering these words:

“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

A year later, as the latest iteration of an Obamacare repeal lay in smoking ruins, Trump said this:

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“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it,” he said Tuesday. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

But Trump, along with Congressional Republicans, does own the healthcare bill’s failure for this simple reason: His party controls the White House and Capitol Hill.

Trump cut Democrats out of the process, and neither House Speaker Paul J. Ryan, R-Wisc., nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made any meaningful attempt to include them in talks.

“This White House, like the last one, has outsourced healthcare to Congress,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told MSNBC last month. “That’s what happened with this bill. Congress is largely writing this bill.”

Lest you think Dent, who hails from the moderate 15th District in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, here’s Tiana Lowe, writing in The National Review, which can hardly be confused for liberal:

“Rather than begin his tenure with legislation set to gain bipartisan, or at least Republican, approval, Trump dived into the most complex cornerstones of GOP dogma without a real plan or the discipline to sell it to the American people,” Lowe wrote. “After publicly pressuring Paul Ryan to ram through a notoriously unpopular bill in the House, Trump slammed it as “mean.” The Senate then had to rewrite major aspects of it – while navigating even more difficult political terrain, because Republicans have a smaller majority in the upper chamber than they do in the House.”

On Wednesday, as it became clear that McConnell faced consistent and steady opposition to repealing Obamacare without a replacement in hand, pundits faulted Trump for failing to do the hard work of selling the bill to voters.

“The fact is Donald Trump did a terrible job selling healthcare because he didn’t really try to sell healthcare,” Joe Scarborough, the former GOP congressman from Florida who hosts the daily “Morning Joe” gabfest on MSNBC, observed Wednesday.

In fact, Trump did the exact opposite of trying to sell the bill to the public – let alone to the Congressional Republicans with whom he allegedly works in common.

At various times, Trump threatened to primary Republican holdouts in the House. Then he said he hoped the Senate would come up with a better bill than the “mean” one passed by the House.

With that lack of message discipline, coupled with the fact that, despite seven years of big talk, Republicans failed to do much else than cobble together a set of unworkable talking points into legislation, it’s no wonder the bill failed.

“Constantly distracted, never really focused. A lot of them complained that he didn’t even understand what was inside the bill, so he really couldn’t rally the base to support it. And you know, he can talk about 48 and 4, but the fact is he is 0 and 1,” Scarborough observed.

Trump’s greatest selling point in Cleveland – that he was a political outsider, a pragmatist and consummate deal-maker who could cure what ailed Washington has now become his greatest liability.

He has thus far demonstrated he is none of those things.

Six months into his presidency, Trump has vacillated between pushing healthcare and tax reform, ending up with neither. Away from Capitol Hill, questions about his campaign’s ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia linger and seemingly get worse by the day. Pathological tweeting has distracted attention away from his legislative agenda.

In fact, here is little evidence that Trump has the knowledge or patience to spend the long hours it takes getting a piece of legislation from to get a bill from the conception stage to the finish line. Nor is there any evidence that he has surrounded himself with those who can.

Passing legislation is a pain-staking and deliberative process. Some members of Congress spend years working to get their bills onto the president’s desk.

Sticktoitedness is part of the job description.

And for those who say, give Trump a chance, it is worth pointing out that, at similar points in their respective presidencies, Trump has signed fewer bills into his law than his predecessors. And those he has signed are remarkable for being mostly unremarkable.

Right now, Trump, the president, looks more like Trump the real estate developer, walking away from ruinous deals, abdicating responsibility, and leaving others holding the bag.

That’s a long way from “I alone can fix it.”

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa