Is Trump Finally Sunk?

Andrew Sullivan: “So time to take a deep breath? I’d say a shallow one. I can see two possible scenarios that could follow a drawn-out Trump slump. One is the nightmare I’ve been having for more than a year now. A president hobbled domestically by his own party’s divisions and the opposition’s new energy may be tempted — Putin-like — to change the subject in a way that vaults him back to popularity. A foreign altercation from which he will not back down? A trade war? A smidge likelier, I’d say, is an over-the-top response to an inevitable jihadist terror attack in a major American city. A demagogue loses much of his power when he tries to wrestle complicated legislation through various political factions, in the way our gloriously inefficient Constitution requires. He regains it with rank fear, polarization, and a raw show of force. Heaven knows what the Constitution will look like once he’s finished.”

“The other possibility is that Trump really does at some point realize he’s sinking fast and decides on a hard pivot. He wants to win and be loved, and if he keeps losing and becomes more widely loathed with his current strategy, it’s by no means out of character for him to recalibrate. He could use the possible failure of Trumpcare to feed Paul Ryan to the Breitbartians, and reach out to Democrats on a tweaked Obamacare and infrastructure package. He could dump Bannon the way he dumped Manafort and bullshit his way through all the inconsistencies (the one thing he remains rather good at). He could wrest himself like Kong on Skull Island from the giant lizards and become the tribune of the forgotten men and women he wants to be, and combine nationalism and protectionism with, er, socialism, like his heroine Marine Le Pen. He could finally realize the potential he has thrown away so far, and become an American Perón.”

Trump Being Advised to Ditch Priebus

New York Times: “On Friday evening, a somewhat shellshocked president retreated to the White House residence to grieve and assign blame. He asked his advisers repeatedly: Whose fault was this? … Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated the initial legislative strategy on the health care repeal with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsin native, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions.”

Source close to the president tell Politico he’s being advised to replace Priebus and is open to possibility — healthcare was the last straw.

Ryan Emerges Badly Damaged

New York Times: “Less than 18 months after being elected speaker, Mr. Ryan has emerged from the defeat of the health care bill badly damaged, retaining a grip on the job but left to confront the realities of his failure — imperiling the odd-couple partnership that was supposed to sustain a new era of conservative government under unified Republican rule.”

“So far, to the surprise of some close to Mr. Trump, the president has remained upbeat on Mr. Ryan, a frequent punching bag during the 2016 campaign and an ideological mismatch whose instincts informed the molding and selling of the health bill far more than the president’s own.”

“But after a humiliating defeat, which many Trump advisers are eager to pin on the speaker, Mr. Ryan is now tasked with defending not just his leadership abilities but his very brand of conservatism in a party fitfully searching for a coherent policy identity that can deliver tangible victories.”

GOP Leadership Hit from Both Sides

Washington Post: “Some parts of these botched negotiations looked a lot like the recent past. Franks and his House Freedom Caucus cronies played the role of obstructionists who will buck party leaders no matter if it’s John Boehner, Ryan’s predecessor, or now Trump. These ideologues gobbled up tons of attention, resulting in much care from Trump, Vice President Pence and top West Wing advisers.”

“Other parts of the negotiation, however, were new and quite different from the previous six years of Republican control of the House. Nothing capped this off more than the stunning announcement Friday morning from Frelinghuysen, just three months into his hold on the coveted Appropriations Committee gavel, that bucked leadership.”

“A 22-year veteran whose family traces its establishment lineage to the Continental Congress, Frelinghuysen won his chairmanship uncontested with the blessing of Ryan and the leadership team. He’s not someone who rocks the boat — he supported impeachment articles against Bill Clinton — but his pronouncement Friday sent a jolt through the Capitol.”

The Art of the Blame

CNN: “Speaking soon after accepting defeat, Trump didn’t shoulder the responsibility himself, nor did he pin the blame on House GOP leadership or any of the warring Republican factions’ whose competing demands ultimately sunk any chance of a consensus bill. Instead, he blamed Democrats and vowed to let Obamacare ‘explode.’

Said Trump: “We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very very difficult thing to do. I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. 100% own it.”

“The words flew in the face of Trump’s intense and personal engagement in lobbying members of Congress to support the House bill, efforts the White House touted in recent days as they hinted at Trump’s negotiating expertise.”

Trump Supporter Regrets Vote As Husband Is Deported

Washington Post: “When Helen Beristain told her husband she was voting for Donald Trump last year, he warned her that the Republican nominee planned to ‘get rid of the Mexicans.'”

“Defending her vote, Helen quoted Trump directly, noting that the tough-talking Republican said he would only kick the ‘bad hombres’ out of the country, according to the South Bend Tribune.”

“Months later, Roberto — a successful businessman, respected member of his Indiana town, the father of three American-born children — languishes in a detention facility with hardened criminals as he awaits his deportation back to Mexico, the country he left in 1998 when he entered the United States illegally.”

Quote of the Day

“I’ve been in this job eight years, and I’m wracking my brain to think of one thing our party has done that’s been something positive, that’s been something other than stopping something else from happening. We need to start having victories as a party. And if we can’t, then it’s hard to justify why we should be back here.”

— Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), quoted by The Atlantic.

Tax Reform Is Not Easier Than Health Care

Playbook: “It might be simpler for the New York, Wall Street-centric Trump administration to understand, because many of them have spent time in finance. But, in Washington, it’s actually harder. First of all, Congress has hardly started the tax reform process. There is deep disagreement among Republicans on the Hill, and between the Hill and the administration. For example, the House — particularly Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady — are hell bent on a border-adjustment tax to help pay for lower rates. Figures in the Trump administration staunchly disagree.”

“There’s absolutely no consensus plan as of now. And the lobbyists have hardly started pounding the pavement. But when they do, there will be millions in advocacy from every business interest in the United States. In fact, because of arcane rules, Republicans don’t even know how they’ll move the legislation. We’re not saying it won’t get done. But it’s not the walk in the park that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wants you to think it is.”

“The Trump administration is chattering about taking the policy lead on tax reform — coming up with a plan, and telling Congress to pass it. According to the aides and lawmakers we’ve spoken to, that would be a mistake. Congress doesn’t take orders well.”

You Can’t Blame the Democrats

A Wall Street Journal editorial rips the Republican leadership:

“House Republicans pulled their health-care bill shortly before a vote on Friday, and for once the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat. This is a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government. The damage is all the more acute because it was self-inflicted. President Trump was right to say on Friday that Democrats provided no help, but Democrats were never going to vote to repeal President Obama’s most important legislation. And that’s no excuse. Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked.”

What Trump Didn’t Like About the Health Care Bill

Politico: “For weeks Trump had seemed disinterested and disengaged from the specifics of the health care fight, both behind closed doors with his aides and at public rallies. Trump ‘just wanted to get something he could sign,’ said one adviser who talks to him frequently. ‘He was over it.’ He would often interrupt conversations on the law to talk about other issues, advisers and aides said.”

“In one phone call with Ryan earlier this month, Trump told the House speaker that he had a problem with the bill. It wasn’t over Medicaid expansion, maternity coverage, deductibles or insurance premiums. Rather, it was that he didn’t like the word ‘buckets’ — which Ryan had been using to describe the parts of their plan. ‘I don’t like that word buckets. You throw trash in buckets. I don’t like that word,’ Trump said, according to two people familiar with the call. Trump preferred ‘phases.’ Ryan agreed and adopted the term.”

Ryan Is Still Safe In His Job

Politico: “No one is prepared to challenge Ryan for his job, said GOP lawmakers from across the Republican Conference. While some right-wing media and outside groups are agitating to replace the speaker, and his antagonists on the White House staff needle him anonymously in the press, there is no way he will be ousted. President Donald Trump hasn’t turned on him, either – at least not yet. And Ryan remains popular with his rank-and-file members, who genuinely like him. Critically, Ryan is not a liability for them back home, the ultimate litmus test for any congressional leader.”

Inside the Meltdown

Mike Allen: “When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: ‘Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.'”

“Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.”

One of the members replied: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

Nunes Vanished Just Before He Made Surveillance Claims

“Hours before the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced his shocking claims about surveillance of the Trump transition team on Wednesday morning, he practically disappeared.”

“Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told the Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.”

“By the next morning, Nunes hastily announced a press conference. His own aides, up to the most senior level, did not know what their boss planned to say next. Nunes’ choice to keep senior staff out of the loop was highly unusual.”