Washington Republicans are in disarray. Almost 100 days into Donald Trump's presidency, the GOP holds the White House and both houses of Congress and yet no legislation has been passed. An attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare petered out when everyone realized what a monster the "replacement" bill was. Republicans are still having on-and-off-again discussions about what to do about the health-care system, a slightly important issue. And then there is the budget and tax reform, things that Republicans usually like.
The image they conjure up is a dog chasing its tail and then running into a wall.
Lawmaking in Washington is messy, as it should be, since lawmaking in a democracy involves navigating many competing interests. But what makes this time around so different is that usually the process is messy, but there's at least a general sense of what each actor wants, and where the various tension points are. It took many many months of brutal wrangling to get ObamaCare passed, but it was clear throughout what the White House wanted (something that dramatically expanded coverage without appearing to bust the budget too much), what Republicans wanted (not comprehensive coverage and no government expansion), and what moderate Democrats wanted (anything that didn't make them look like the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky).
The difference now is that Republicans keep talking about various ideas when it comes to, say, tax reform, or health care, but there's no sense which is particularly important to them or why. Many Republicans in Washington are aware of this and are quick to blame someone: Donald J. Trump.
And fair enough. The reason the process is so discombobulated is that, in fact, President Trump doesn't know what he wants. He doesn't know what he wants because he acts on instinct and lacks a sufficient grasp of policy to be able to negotiate a deal. Republicans therefore find themselves groping in the dark, like someone lost in an unfamiliar city where everyone speaks a foreign language.
Except that this is just an excuse. Nature abhors a vacuum. Right now, there is a leadership vacuum because the putative leader of the Republican Party is not providing the required leadership. But in any good organization, leadership vacuums don't last. Others lead, even if they are not the natural party to do it.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: Paul Ryan, wake up!
What happened to you, man?
First you messed up on ACA Repeal 1.0. Now it's like you vanished into thin air!
Look, I understand, it's hard: Your dream Reagan 2.0 reform ain't gonna happen. It ain't gonna happen for structural reasons, which is that shrinking the government without doing anything else doesn't help one of the core constituencies of your party. Plus, ACA Repeal 1.0 squandered a lot of the goodwill you'd built up with many in your caucus.
But it doesn't mean that good policy can't happen. Someone needs to step up and push bills that address the concerns of the various constituencies within Congress and the party. What happened to the stuff anti-Trump conservatives were told during the campaign: All that was needed from Trump was a desk and a pen because Republicans would run the country from Congress. Well?
So, for example, on health care, while you tried to blame the Freedom Caucus for the collapse of ACA Repeal 1.0, you know they're willing to play ball, as they showed yesterday by getting onboard ACA Repeal 1.5. Which means it's possible to pass a bill that covers as many, or more people, as ObamaCare, while removing many of its egregious regulations and making the American health-care system a little less insane.
On tax reform: No, sorry, just slashing rates isn't going to cut it. But you can turn out Trump voters in 2018 by pushing a tax reform bill that really helps them. Think a massive payroll tax cut, wage subsidies, or an expanded child tax credit. All would grow the economy, boost jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, and help struggling middle-class families.
Paul Ryan became the intellectual leader of his party precisely because he offered bold, thoughtful ideas when nobody else was willing to do it. It's time to step up and provide that leadership again.
The bottom line is this: It's bad that we have a president who can't do his job. But it's not actually an excuse for leaving the party leaderless. It's time to provide leadership. Paul Ryan, it's time to step up.