The Endgame

by Rich Lowry

We’re starting to get reporting on the internal details of the health-care debate. This bit from Shane Goldmacher and Josh Dawsey at Politico on the final hours is notable:

But even as Trump and his top advisers wanted to forge ahead, they were showing sign of worry. Spicer no longer embraced the term “the closer.” GOP leadership pushed to drop what was now seen as a kamikaze mission. And a little after 3 p.m., Trump talked to Ryan again — the two had a 45-minute conversation late Thursday night about the law.

“He talked to Paul Ryan for a few minutes, who said he was at least 10 and 15 votes short,” one of the senior White House officials said. Ryan said he planned to pull the vote unless Trump objected, and Trump said he was OK with that.

Ryan explained soon after what it meant to a national television audience: “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Trump got off the phone, scribbled down some notes and dialed up reporters to give his side before the full White House staff was even briefed. The president was most focused on the news coverage and how it reflected on him, as he had been throughout, telling advisers how much the criticism of the law on TV bothered him.

And our former colleague Tim Alberta has an excellent long piece for Politico magazine that describes how fuzzy Trump was on the details, which limited his persuasiveness. Here is his account of a meeting on Thursday:

Filled with hope once again, Freedom Caucus members were once again promptly disappointed. This meeting was yet another “take one for the team” seminar. The atmosphere was friendly, and the president had the group laughing with irrelevant riffs and stories of negotiations past, but it became clear, as soon as he made the “little shit” comment, that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn’t have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate what would or would not be realistic for Ryan to shepherd through the House.

Through charm, force of personality and sheer intimidation, Trump did move some votes into the yes column. But GOP leaders were left wondering why he didn’t do more—why he didn’t send tweets, travel to congressional districts, put his famed dealmaking skills to work. The answer, to Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is obvious: Because he lacked familiarity with the legislation itself, and thought it was Ryan’s job to sell the specifics.

“Trump is a business executive. When he tells his lieutenants to get something done, he’s used to it getting done,” one senior House GOP aide told me. “He’s really not used to getting involved himself.”

 

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