Not since CEO Roberto Goizueta replaced Coke with New Coke in the mid-1980s has a chief executive been caught so unawares. At least he had the excuse of marketing research, which, I'm sure, he had actually read. Not so with America's CEO, Donald Trump. He stumbles about in a fog of ignorance — playing chief executive and quizzing aides on occasion, but watching television for his deepest intel. According to the Washington Post, upon Paul Ryan's introduction of the Republican leadership's New Coke, "Trump sat in the Oval Office and queried his advisers: 'Is this really a good bill?'" What did he know? He hadn't read it, and he wouldn't have understood if he had. "Trump peppered his aides again and again with the same concern, usually after watching cable news reports chronicling the setbacks...: 'Is this really a good bill?'"
Well, a whole 17 percent of the American public thought it was, and evidently Trump's advisers thought the same. Otherwise he wouldn't have regularly praised the hurried patchwork of a disastrous healthcare bill, which, because of the president's approval, shall forever carry his name. Nevertheless, he never had a clue as to what the eponymous legislation was all about. Ezra Klein cites the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who earlier this week "published a series of messages from a House Freedom Caucus source laying out the state of play on the American Health Care Act. 'Don’t source to me,' the person wrote, 'but R’s astonish[ed] how in over his head Trump is. He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy of this.'"
That's enormously peculiar — not getting the politics of this, that is — since the White House, all along, was interested in only the politics of healthcare. As his congressional allies did for seven years, Trump had promised to demolish Obamacare: the actual policy of demolition be damned; after all, it's so complicated.
Now, the White House intends to get right with the politics of its demolition.
Yesterday, Trump stuck to the official CYA script. "We had no Democratic support," he said. "They weren’t going to give us a single vote." The imbecility of that political cover deserves little more than a yawn. In the wings, though, Trump's immediate ire was aimed at his own party's hardliners. Reports the NYT: "[His] anger at the defiant members of the Freedom Caucus was undiminished…. By Friday, Mr. Trump was out for blood, eager to call the bluff of the Freedom Caucus and savage it if the health bill went down in defeat."
This, he did not do. Why? Because the Freedom Caucus is not, in fact, the real target of Trump's eventual retribution. Speaker Paul Ryan is. "I don’t blame him for a thing, I really don’t," said the president in preparation for yet another self-contradiction.
Further reports the Times: "Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers were privately expressing frustration with Mr. Ryan, arguing that he had badly misjudged the situation and misled the president into tackling health care before a tax overhaul…. One close adviser said that Mr. Trump, who hates looking weak or any form of embarrassment in public, was stewing." Reports Bloomberg Politics: "Behind the scenes … the president’s aides blame Ryan for the bill’s embarrassing defeat…. Asked whether Trump, Ryan, or the Freedom Caucus … would be most to blame if the bill fails, [one] administration official said Ryan…. Several Trump associates have already laid groundwork to blame the speaker."
Adds New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman: "For [Steve] Bannon, Ryan is the embodiment of the 'globalist-corporatist' Republican elite. A failed bill would be Bannon’s best chance yet to topple Ryan and advance his nationalist-populist economic agenda." And Bannon, of course, has Trump's ear.
Naturally, Trump is blameless for the bill's collapse, because Trump never errs. For a while, he'll blame the Democrats for his humiliation. But such blame is so incredibly insipid — even for Trump — it'll soon morph into targeting Ryan.
The amusing part of blaming Colonel Ryan is not that he's innocent of botching healthcare reform. He's guilty as hell. No, the really amusing part is that Gen. Trump is far guiltier, since the man in charge of the nation is, well, supposed to be in charge. Nonetheless, Ryan will take the fall — and pushing him will be Donald Trump.