To Lead, or Not to Lead…THAT is the Question
When John Boehner (R-OH) announced his stepping-down from the House speakership in September of 2015, it was largely due to his inability to lead his majority caucus, and complicated by the surprise defeat of his majority leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), by a Tea Party conservative upstart, Dave Brat (R-VA), the year before. It was in that year before, that moderate Republicans, who would eventually become NeverTrump Republicans, could not find the political muster to defund ObamaCare, as they very well could have, and the demands for a change in House leadership then fell on the wrong guy- another oh-so-moderate Republican, one Paul Ryan (R-WI).
At the time, one recalls that Congressman Ryan didn’t initially want the job, but because no other Republican had the courage to lead the opposition to Barack Obama, he grudgingly accepted the speakership that Boehner gladly surrendered. Ryan was a national unknown until he became the vice-presidential running mate of yet another oh-so-moderate Republican, one Mitt Romney (R-MA), who had instituted a forerunner of ObamaCare in Massachusetts, when he was governor of that state. Ryan was an attractive, youthful counterpart to the older, ultimate insider Joe Biden, and it was thought he could propel Romney to victory. Yet both were so determined not to risk offense, that they moderated themselves to abject defeat in the 2012 election.
Paul Ryan went on to become Speaker of the House, and promised much if he could only witness a Republican majority in the Senate and, ultimately, in the White House. Ryan proved to be an on-again, off-again supporter of Donald Trump- not speaking at the behest of his party’s nominee until the convention that confirmed Trump’s nomination. In the coming weeks and months, Ryan’s so-called support of Trump waxed and waned with the prevailing winds of public opinion, based on polling that ended up being woefully wrong, in the end. Ryan even cancelled a campaign appearance with Trump, following the release of the Billy Bush recording, and was hedging his bets that Trump would ultimately lose to Hillary Clinton. Yes, the leader of the Republican Party busily prepared himself for a Clinton victory that wasn’t to be, instead of preparing an agenda for a Republican president to pursue.
So, it is this Paul Ryan, the wobbly wooden soldier of all things polite and proper, the perfect professional of political process, in whom Donald Trump entrusted his first legislative foray, taking on the most difficult challenge of all- the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare.
Instead of assembling an intramural team of both conservative and moderate Republicans, in both the House and Senate, to put together a fail-proof bill that would have had the support of most, if not all, of the Republicans in both houses, as true leadership would demand, Ryan played the insider game of crafting a Republican version of ObamaCare and proceeded with printing the bill before it could even be discussed within the Republican House caucus. He proceeded then to misrepresent the level of support for its passage to President Trump, and asked the new president to rally support for a bill not of his own making. Trump did his level best to meet with all factions, and even amended the bill to appease Republicans who were not initially in support of what they viewed to be “ObamaCare Light,” which didn’t exactly repeal ObamaCare and didn’t actually replace it, either. But then the oh-so-moderate Republicans, who are afraid of offending anyone at any time, began to drop off and the bill was doomed, in the end.
Democrats celebrated the failure of this bill as a “rookie mistake” of the Trump presidency and then cynically offered a willingness to work with the president on fixing what ails ObamaCare. Yeah, right. Democrats would love nothing more than to hang its ultimate failure on a Republican president they despise, rather than face the certitude of its failure, and being held to account for crafting it in the first place.
Donald Trump’s decision to trust Ryan to deliver the votes necessary to pass the bill was indeed a mistake, but nothing would assure the ultimate failure of his own presidency more, than placing his trust in Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). It is Schumer who has urged his caucus to oppose the nomination of the most qualified and excellent Supreme Court nominee in more than a half-century, Neil Gorsuch, and it is Pelosi who infamously once said, “We have to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it,” putting the nation’s healthcare in the position that it is, today. In trusting the Democrats who so vehemently oppose his presidency, to a level never seen by an opposition party in U.S. history, Trump would be a damned fool to go down that rosy path to perdition…ever.
Despite the president’s unwillingness to blame Ryan and the House Republican leadership for the bill’s failure, the fact is that the House Republican leadership has now abrogated any level of trust with the administration in pursuing legislation, going forward. Ryan will remain the Speaker of the House for the time being, but any chance of his being an effective leader of House Republicans has gone with the winds of time and circumstance.
So what is a Donald, or more appropriately, “the Donald” to do?
If President Trump wants to realize any hope of success in achieving his legislative agenda, he is going to have to draft his own legislation, submit it to Congress, and take to the airwaves to garner support for it from the public-at-large, much as former President Ronald Reagan did early in his first term, to prompt public support for his tax cuts. Reagan accomplished getting his way, despite a substantial Democrat majority in the House of Representatives. Trump has already shown an ability to gain public support, as evidenced by the response to his first speech to both houses of congress in February. To a public who is hungry for tax cuts and reform to the tax code, this would be a cinch for the President, and would prevent the spineless Republicans in the House and Senate from watering the bill down to a complete “nothing-burger,” something that oh-so-moderate Republicans are expertized in doing.
Essentially, the success or failure of Donald Trump’s presidency is now inexorably dependent upon his own ability and his own propensity to lead, because the GOP’s leadership, in both houses, once again proved that they are unable to lead, for the fear of their own failure.
In essence, to lead or not to lead, that is the question, for leadership requires a willingness to put oneself on the line, and that is the question for President Donald J. Trump, going forward.
-Drew Nickell, 26 March 2017
© 2017 by Drew Nickell, all rights reserved.
author of “Bending Your Ear- a Collection of Essays on the Issues of Our Times”
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