The Republicans’ long crusade to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act may have died yesterday with the announcement that Senators Moran and Lee would vote against even bringing the current Senate bill to a vote. The health care debate will continue because everyone agrees that the ACA has problems that need fixing, and some reparative legislation may ultimately emerge. But the vision of President Trump, uncouth but mystically powerful, leading a Republican congress to an endless string of political victories like a modern Genghis Khan sweeping across the steppes at the head of his resistless Mongol hordes? Well, that’s pretty much dead.
In its place is humiliation — undeniable failure by Republicans, in control of every lever of federal power, to accomplish the one thing they have, for seven long years, promised their most ardent followers.
Of course, the seeming collapse of “repeal and replace” is primarily due to the incoherence of Republican healthcare “thinking” in the Obama era. Universal, or even near-universal, access to healthcare can only be achieved through something like a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach or a market-based, but government-subsidized, approach. Republicans, from the Heritage Foundation to Mitt Romney, championed the latter approach … until President Obama adopted it, whereupon it became a despicable liberal plot. And thus, when charged with “fixing” what they decried as the “disaster” of Obamacare, Republicans had nowhere to turn. They had only three choices – embracing the “socialist” heresy of single-payer, merely tweaking the market-based solution they had transformed into heresy, or stripping healthcare from millions of voting Americans. Faced with three intolerable choices, the Republicans choked and did nothing.
Despite their obvious failure, Republicans will not, cannot, readily admit that the central plank of their electoral platform for the last four election cycles is, and always was, bunk. The blame for failure will have to be diverted elsewhere. And Mr. Trump is a large, visible, and obvious target for blame.
Republican officeholders as a class have never been happy with Mr. Trump’s ascendance. He is not a “conservative,” as that term has come to be defined by the Republican intelligentsia. He is not an evangelical Christian, even if some visible leaders of the political wing of evangelicalism have gulped hard and embraced him. He is not really even a Republican, having chosen to run as one for purely opportunistic reasons.
Instead, for institutional Republicans, he is an accidental messiah, unlooked-for, fundamentally unwelcome, but offering in his tawdry, tweeting persona the prospect of transformational policy victories. “We’re gonna win so much you’re gonna get sick and tired of winning.”
What the healthcare debacle makes clear is that, in addition to his manifold personal deficiencies, Mr. Trump has no talent for crafting policy, jawboning legislative coalitions, or selling hard policy choices to the public. Instead, his performance throughout this year’s healthcare debate has been vintage bad Trump — uninformed and essentially uninterested in the actual substance of legislation, alternatively blustering, threatening, or fawning, always preening and self-absorbed, wildly inconsistent, and ultimately petulant. In the hard business of governance, he is anything but a “winner.”
So what has all this to do with impeachment? Only this — regardless of all the endless debates on this blog and elsewhere about whether Mr. Trump has committed statutory crimes or impeachable offenses, he will not be impeached or removed from office unless a solid majority of the political class of both parties is convinced that his continued presence in office disserves the nation.
I emphasize “both parties” for two reasons, one mathematical and the other political.
The obvious point is that the Constitution requires a majority vote in the House of Representatives to approve an article of impeachment, and a two-thirds vote in the Senate for conviction and removal. The Republicans now hold majorities in both houses and thus impeachment is impossible unless significant numbers of Republicans repudiate a president of their own party. And liberals who dream of Trump’s removal need to remember that, even if (somewhat improbably) the results of the 2018 midterm elections were to give Democrats the House and a narrow majority of 51 in the Senate, not every House Democrat would be certain to vote for impeachment and the two-thirds threshold in the Senate would remain mathematically impossible without at least sixteen Republican votes.
The political point is that elected Republicans are – let’s be honest here – profoundly unlikely to abandon Mr. Trump at all, and certainly will not do so unless they become convinced that he is not merely a bad man, but a fatal impediment to Republican policy objectives and their personal political interests. They may never reach that conclusion.
But Trump’s catastrophically inept performance in the healthcare debate may — and I emphasize may — be the first step toward a moment when, if presented with incontrovertible evidence that Mr. Trump has committed acts traditionally viewed as impeachable, Republicans will vote to rid themselves and the country of their accidental messiah.