The Corner

Politics & Policy

McConnell vs. Trump

Mitch McConnell provoked Donald Trump by complaining that the president had created unrealistic expectations for fast action on Obamacare. This criticism of Trump is misplaced. It was congressional Republicans, not Trump, who created the expectation that they would pass legislation undoing Obamacare.

They created that expectation by pledging, for seven years, to repeal and replace it at their first opportunity. They were the ones who, right after the election, announced an initial plan of repealing Obamacare’s tax and spending provisions in the first weeks of 2017 and dealing with the rest of it later—a plan that, to their credit, they soon realized was unworkable. They were the ones who decided that Congress would take up first health care and then tax reform.

President Trump’s role in all of this was passive. On the campaign trail, he accepted repeal of Obamacare as a priority of the party in which he was running. He deferred to congressional leaders on both the timing and the substance of the legislation. And while he was not especially helpful in getting legislation passed—he was either unwilling or unable to make a strong case for it in public or to negotiate over its provisions, and his retaliatory criticism of McConnell for not passing the bill does not come attached to any suggestions for what he should have done differently or should do differently now—nothing Trump did lost it votes either.

To the extent the president bears responsibility for the lack of progress on health care, it has been because of sins of omission. A different Republican candidate might have run with a specific plan to replace Obamacare and gotten more buy-in from the congressional party in the process of running and winning with it. Trump didn’t generate that consensus. But in an ideal world, the Republican Congress would already have agreed on the outlines of a plan by the time a nominee was picked. It didn’t, and that sin of omission was deliberate. (Among the reasons: A lot of congressmen wanted to take direction from a Republican president, not realizing it would never come, and didn’t want to do the work of coming up with a plan themselves.)

I could go on about what a poor job Republicans have done on health care—and I have, in a recent print edition of NR. Here I’ll just say that seven months into Republican control of Congress and the White House, many of the party’s most important figures seem to be more interested in blaming each other for failure than in converting it into success.

P.S. Don’t read too much, as some people have, into the fact that McConnell and Trump are on the same side in the Alabama Senate primary. Trump is backing the incumbent, Luther Strange, because Strange supported him last year. McConnell is backing Strange because he sees him as a team player and thinks his opponents, Roy Moore and Mo Brooks, would be unhelpful bombthrowers. McConnell’s people are making the case that Strange deserves support because he’s loyal to Trump and Brooks isn’t because they think it will work in Alabama, not because they care about loyalty to Trump. This Alabama-specific alliance of convenience doesn’t preclude further escalation in this feud.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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