Every now and then a Principled Conservative© is momentarily able to catch a glimpse of the insanity of the far-right zombie that their beloved Republican party has become, and for those few moments they actually make some observations that that are true, even if ultimately their analyses are shallow. Take Jonah Goldberg for instance in his new bit (“Who’s to blame for Trump’s failures? Must be Paul Ryan,” LA Times, 3/27/2017):
Paul Ryan did it.
That’s the argument many of the louder voices on the right are shouting. In the story they tell, the speaker of the House is fully responsible for the GOP’s failure to pass an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill last week.
To Goldberg’s credit, he calls out Trump defenders in media, specifically naming Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro (figures whom he usually ignores), and does a mild fact-check:
First, that’s not what Trump says. On Saturday morning, Trump placed the blame squarely on the House Freedom Caucus, the 30-odd members of Congress who reportedly kept changing their demands until it was clear they were never going to support the American Health Care Act. Nor is there a single quote from a member of Congress echoing this sentiment, even from the Freedom Caucus. The people in the room understand that Ryan, who clearly made some mistakes, nonetheless acted in good faith to move the president’s agenda.
But even then Goldberg starts to falter and leave out details.
First, there’s the strange tweet Trump sent out Friday morning urging his followers to watch Pirro’s show later that day, the same episode in which she’d put all the blame on Ryan:
Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog surmises Trump might not have sent that tweet himself since it was sent from an Android and not an iPhone, as his more Trumpy tweets are sent from an iPhone. Regardless, Politico reports that there is at least one faction of the White House that does blame Ryan:
Indeed, the blame game began even before the vote was called off. “This is 100 percent a Ryan failure,” said the third White House official. While Trump wasn’t upset with Ryan, multiple senior officials said, a number of his advisers and aides were trashing the speaker before the vote.
And Trump, while himself not explicitly blaming Ryan, was eager to spread blame to Democrats for the bill’s failure: “We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t going to give us a single vote.”
So Trump isn’t content to just blame the Freedom Caucus. He’ll blame anyone and everyone for now—including indirect swipes at Ryan—until a consensus is reached. And really, Jonah, I don’t think the Freedom Caucus likes Ryan as much as you think they do. They would be more than happy for him to resign as speaker so they could try to appoint one of their own—Mark Meadows, in all likeliness.
But anyway, the thing is, far-right media is actually half-right in their assertion: contrary to what Goldberg insinuates, Paul Ryan is largely to blame for the content of the bill itself as well as the failure to secure the number of votes needed—Ryan is one of the many Republicans who has talked about repealing Obamacare for years, and that was just one part of his “Better Way” campaign to, as Joy Reid put it, repeal the 20th century.
But Goldberg is correct in that far-right media’s notion that Trump was duped by Ryan makes no sense. Believing that Trump the master negotiator could be had by a Washington insider runs counter to the narrative Trump’s supporters have tried to push about his supposed shrewdness—and as Goldberg rightly points out, these same media surrogates insisted Trump could do anything, so conceding that he is capably of being betrayed itself betrays the notion of Trump the omnipotent.
No, instead it’s far more likely that Trump’s numerous golf trips and rallies and TV habits continue to reveal a simple truth about Trump: he is bored by and uninterested in policy, and so was not duped by Ryan so much as he delegated to Ryan work he had no knowledge of or patience for. Now that the failure is front and center, Trump’s doing his usual dance of shirking blame by pushing it off on others. Which is why, given that we are still in the immediate aftermath of a significant failure, I don’t think Goldberg has to worry about this:
Trump is signaling that he might be happier to work with Democrats than deal with the purity-caucus—an alliance that certainly would not lead to conservative policies.
His “signaling” is nothing more than a show. There is almost nothing he will realistically offer Democrats, and it is highly unlikely that he’s willing to consider any of their offers. For the moment, Trump is a president who is burning nearly every bridge he already didn’t have in Washington. Let’s see whether his fellow Republicans will put them out.