In the wake of their failure to repeal Obamacare, Republicans have quickly pivoted to their next priority: maneuvering to pin the blame on each other for the failure. Some of the infighting has pitted Republicans in the Executive branch against those in the House. Some of it has pitted White House aides against each other. What follows is a guide to the latest developments in the party’s fratricidal conflict.
President Trump wishes he didn’t try to pass health-care reform before he tried infrastructure and tax cuts. According to CNN, Trump “said he expressed regret at attempting to push through a health-care repeal effort before working on tax reform or an infrastructure package — both areas in which he’s better versed than health care.” (Trump does not actually understand infrastructure policy or tax policy well at all, but he believes he does, which is not the case with health-care reform.)
Trump is trying to pass health-care reform anyway. The White House held a meeting last night with House leaders pressing upon them the need to pass a bill quickly. “A House aide said Pence and other White House officials painted a ‘dire’ political picture of what would happen if Republicans fail to act on health care,” reports the Washington Post, which describes the meeting as “intense.”
Politico goes farther. “It was really bad,” one source says.“They were in total meltdown, total chaos mode.” Priebus may or may not have threatened Ryan’s job if the bill fails:
At one point, according to three sources briefed on the meeting, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested it could be detrimental to Ryan’s speakership if Republicans fail to pass a bill. Others disputed that characterization, saying the comments were not aimed specifically at Ryan’s but more broadly: As in, all Republican lawmakers’ jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t deliver.
Priebus may get fired. One reason for the intensity of the meeting may be that Priebus himself is at risk of being sacked if the health-care bill does not pass. “According to several people familiar with Trump’s thinking,” reports CNN, “if this latest health-care gambit fails, Priebus is likely to catch the blame — and could be shown the door.”
Trump is also angry at Steve Bannon. The chief strategist urged Trump to ram a bill through the House and dare members to oppose it, eventually culminating in a humiliating retreat. Bannon’s demotion from his position on the National Security Council is universally seen as a public rebuke by the president.
Bannon is fighting back against his internal enemies. Bannon has lashed out at Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, his internal rivals for Trump’s ear. Bannon is calling Cohn “Globalist Gary,” according to CNN, an apparent reference to Cohn’s background at Goldman Sachs. (Bannon also worked at Goldman Sachs, but sees himself as less of a rootless cosmopolitan international-banking elitist.)
Jonathan Swan reports, “the hatred between the two wings is intense and irreconcilable,” and that “the Bannonites believe the liberals” — another Bannonite term for the conventional Republicans advising Trump, who are not liberal — “staged a coup and will turn Trump into a conventional squish who betrays the very voters who brought him to power. The Jared wing thinks the Bannonites are clinically nuts.” Evidence suggests both sides are correct.
“[Steve] recently vented to us about Jared being a ‘globalist’ and a ‘cuck’…He actually said ‘cuck,’ as in ‘cuckservative,’” one administration official told the Daily Beast. (“Cuckservative” is an alt-right term, derived from cuckolding, to impugn mainstream conservatives as metaphorically or sexually impotent. The term also refers to the white-supremacist fixation with the white race losing its identity through miscegenation.)
According to Swan, Bannon is threatening to use his connections to right-wing media moguls to attack his adversaries. “Steve has developed strong and important relationships with some of the most powerful right-leaning business leaders,” a close Bannon ally outside of the White House tells Swan. “I see some bad press in [Jared’s] future.”
The civil war is percolating down through the bureaucracy. According to another Politico story, many or even most agencies are riven with conflicts between Trump loyalists, who expected high positions in the administration, and regular Republicans, who have largely supplanted them.
“There are people who moved here and signed a year lease,” one longtime campaign staffer tells Politico. “They got nothing for their loyalty to Trump. We’re pissed off. We’re angry. There are people who can’t even look us in the eye because they know they’re [screwing] us.”
The actual reasons for the failure of the health-care bill boil down to two things: first, the irreconcilable tension between public desire for more generous coverage and conservative demands for less, and the complete policy ignorance of the president, which made intra-party negotiation prohibitively difficult.
Obviously, those are not explanations Trump wants to hear. At the moment, he appears to be leaning toward the answers supplied to him by Kushner and Cohn. Bannon is reportedly telling people, “I love a gunfight.” But you don’t bring a gun to the Night of the Long Knives.