Opinion: Trump and GOP show the strain

Back in our time of innocence, when Donald Trump was just a harmless New York B-list celebrity worth a few chuckles, his penchant for picking epic personal feuds found a partner in another New York-based B-list celebrity, a comedian by the name of Rosie O’Donnell.

Well, I’m beginning to think O’Donnell has been replaced in that role by McConnell, as in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Last week, Trump launched a series of Twitter attacks against McConnell, one of the most powerful leaders of his own party, for failing to pass an Obamacare repeal bill.

“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done,” Trump asked in one tweet. “Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!”

That’s pretty harsh, and Trump later went further, suggesting that McConnell should be removed if he can’t deliver on repeal and other GOP goals. So once again, it’s not a question of whether Trump will turn on you, but when.

On the other hand — and I hate to admit it — Trump does have a point. Back home in Kentucky on recess, McConnell has tried to excuse Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare by claiming that Trump had “excessive expectations” about how quickly Congress could act. That’s utter nonsense.

True, Trump knows nothing about government and has acted as if trying to learn is beneath him. But for seven long years — seven years — McConnell and the rest of the GOP establishment in Washington had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, depicting it as the biggest threat to Western civilization since the fall of the Soviet empire. They created the expectation that McConnell now dismisses as “excessive.”

Yet in all that time, they invested zero effort in crafting an actual plan to do so. They showed no interest in health care policy, no interest in the hard work required, and in the end their laziness and incompetence caught up with them, producing one of the biggest political embarrassments of the last 50 years.

That said, Trump has no room to talk. He too made repeal and replace a central theme of his presidential campaign. He too made exorbitant promises about how wonderful his replacement plan was going to be and about how easy it all would be once he brought his awesome powers of negotiation to bear. Yet when the time came to produce, he too had nothing. He put no effort into drafting a plan and little effort in trying to sell the Senate’s plan to a skeptical public, probably because he knew the bill was an atrocity and he didn’t want to be closely associated with it.

In the wake of that failure, what we’re now seeing is Trump trying to divorce himself from hapless Republican leaders, and Republican leaders trying to divorce themselves from a hapless president. This has the makings of something nasty. And while Trump’s feud with Rosie actually benefited both of them, giving them the publicity that both sought, this one doesn’t work like that.

With Robert Mueller breathing down his neck, Trump is going to need cover from a Republican Congress. With a restive conservative base livid at the failure to repeal Obamacare, congressional Republicans in turn need Trump on their side. But sooner or later this is what Trump does to his partners, both in business and now in politics.

As Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard put it, paraphrasing Churchill:

“In dealing with Trump, congressional Republicans were given the choice between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor and they now have war.”

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