On the July 30 episode of Game of Thrones, Queen Daenerys met Jon Snow and they were locked in tense negotiations over his desire for aid against the White Walkers versus her demand for fealty. Meanwhile, Queen Cersei’s new ally and Yara’s main enemy Euron Greyjoy captured Yara and the remaining Dornish leaders to parade through King’s Landing, eventually to be tortured. Cersei was told by the Bank of Braavos to pay her outstanding debts. Daenerys kept Jon on hold long enough to execute Tyrion’s plan to take the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock, only to find that Jaime Lannister had already decided to sacrifice the castle and use his family army to defeat Daenerys’ ally, House Tyrell, who also happened to be the richest family in the Seven Kingdoms, thus solving the bank problem. And out of courtesy Jaime agreed to let Dame Tyrell poison herself rather than be tortured, only for the old woman to tell him that she’d poisoned King Joffrey (Jaime’s incestuous son) for everyone’s good.
This is simpler to follow than the Trump Administration.
Where did this all begin? Well, a bunch of people in Hillary Clinton’s “firewall” states decided to mainline Alex Jones with a Rush Limbaugh chaser and gave the government a lobotomy. But this specific thread of events started with Donald Trump getting increasingly fed up with his press flack, Sean Spicer and pushing him further and further away from the press. Eventually Trump “solved” the problem by creating a new Commuincations Director, Anthony Scaramucci, who actually went by the nickname “the Mooch.” Which would make him the most aptly named public figure since Andy Dick. Trump seemed to have appointed Scaramucci to this role because he liked his style. It turned out he had all of Donald Trump’s entertainment value and none of his common sense. In a now-legendary phone conversation with Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker, The Mooch not only went through several New York Italian turns of verse, he attacked White House leakers in general and (alleged) Chief of Staff Reince Preibus in particular, saying “Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.” And lo, Preibus was made to resign around July 27, just after Scaramucci’s oratory was made public. The problem was that now Trump needed a chief of staff, and by either advice or his own inclination he decided to make his current Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly the new Chief of Staff, and one Kelly’s priorities seems to be getting grownups in charge. Certain people in the White House were embarrassed by The Mooch (obviously not Trump, or he wouldn’t have fired Preibus so quickly after The Mooch roasted him) and apparently at Kelly’s behest Tony the Mooch JUST resigned his office today. So even though he would have been SO MUCH FUN to watch in the job, Scaramucci wasn’t a very good Communications Director, unless the message being communicated was “this Administration is a Monty Python sketch directed by Martin Scorsese.”
Even then, that was just an especially colorful coating of the real news from the last ten days, which was the defeat of Trumpcare in the Senate. Prior to the vote to allow debate on a bill, it had already been categorically opposed by several senators, some of whom, like Rand Paul, were persuaded to change their minds. Two who didn’t were both moderate Republican women: Senator Susan Collins (R.-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska). With only 52 Republican Senators possible to vote for Mitch McConnell’s “reconcilation” maneuver, and all 48 Democrats set to vote against letting it to the floor, McConnell could not allow more than two defections if he wanted the vote to proceed, or for any bill to pass. McConnell and Trump desperately called Sen. John McCain (R.-Arizona) to come and vote for the bill even though he was recuperating from cancer surgery back home. But for the sake of his party, McCain came to Washington. He made a big show of endorsing “regular order” and the old bipartisan negotiation for bills, but on July 24 voted with 49 other Republicans and against Collins, Murkowski and the Democrats to allow the motion to proceed. With Vice President Mike Pence as the Senate tie-breaker, McConnell was able to proceed with votes for a bill that didn’t exist. So they voted for a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. That got only 43 Republican votes. Then they voted on a “clean” repeal that would be phased in two years, ostensibly to give Republicans time to create a replacement plan as if they hadn’t had seven years already. That one got 45 votes. Then McConnell’s people came up with a vaguely promised “skinny” repeal that would have repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate but not Medicaid expansion. On Thursday July 27, after liberals had had much wailing and gnashing of teeth over McCain letting things get to this point, the skinny repeal got a mostly party-line vote with Collins and Murkowski voting against it – along with McCain.
Collins and Murkowski had no reason to march with the Republican herd, because of their constituencies, and several reasons to go against it. McCain had that more reason to go against this White House, if not Republicans in general, and yet he kept us in suspense.
Why did McCain have his agony at Gethsemane for the better part of a week when he could have just shut the whole thing down by voting Nay for a floor debate? Because as it turns out, that wouldn’t have been the end of it. Basically, McConnell, as is his way, tried to gin the result he wanted by eliminating Democrats from a process that is designed to work via negotiation. Most budget bills require a two-thirds majority in the Senate. But both chambers can request a reconcilation debate which allows a bill to pass with only a simple majority in the Senate (51 votes) and no filibustering. However such a special bill gets only 20 total hours floor debate, and- this is the key- only one such reconciliation bill can be proposed in any given year.
Had the bill never been allowed to get to the floor, McConnell could have potentially brought it up at a later time. Now that the bill has been debated, another bill cannot be proposed except through “regular order” – a standard Senate debate with two-thirds vote, which would require working with Democrats to get anywhere. And McCain knew all this.
Of course, it is still not clear whether McCain’s stunt was motivated by serious disagreements with the Republican approach to legislation or because of desire for revenge on a politician who’d insulted him and other POWs by saying “I like heroes who weren’t captured.” Because the two matters may be related.
Again, the latest Trumpcare effort crashed on July 27, and that was the same day Preibus was fired by Trump. Most of the reason that Preibus was even in the White House was as a liason to the Republican establishment, given that in 2016, he was the head of the Republican National Committee. In particular, he was a friend of House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, and allegedly Trump was persuaded by Priebus to focus on Ryan’s healthcare “reform” over other legislative priorities, even though Trump himself had little involvement in the healthcare issue and to the extent that he did, his whims were more populist than fiscally conservative. The failure of the healthcare drive was the last straw for Preibus as Chief of Staff. However useless he was, he was the only tie Trump had to the rest of the Republican institution. And now that’s gone.
Moreover, this all comes in the wake of other bad news from the Republican Party. In conjunction with Democrats, both houses of Congress passed veto-proof majorities for a bill to expand sanctions on Russia and in particular to limit Trump’s power to modify the sanctions without congressional approval. And in response to rumors that Trump would fire his Attorney General in order to find someone who would fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Senator Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), no liberal he, announced on Twitter “Everybody in D.C. (should) be warned that the agenda for the (Judiciary Committee) is set for rest of 2017. Judges first subcabinet 2nd / AG no way”. In other words, if Trump wants to hire a stooge who will help him obstruct justice, the Republican Senate will not help him.
When you’re a politician, you aim to run for office in hopes of boosting your resume to run for Congress. You run for Congress in hopes of running for Senate. And you run for Senate in hopes of getting elected President. But very few people get to be president, and sometimes these career politicians reach a point in their lives, like McCain has, where they realize that’s not going to happen. And when they realize this, they have to take stock of what the institution will be like when they’re gone. And some, not all, Republicans are looking at their Leader and they see a 70-year old man with a well-known fondness for KFC, McDonald’s and well-done steaks. Forget the 25th Amendment, Trump might not survive to 2020. And some of these guys have also come to realize that while their institution could survive Trump, he is enough of a spiteful little shit that if he saw he was going down, he would try to take everything with him. The prospect of replacing him with Vice President Pence seems more practical by the day.
Pence certainly does not have Trump’s charismatic hold on the “base” and from a liberal standpoint, he would be that much more committed to a regressive agenda, but for the conservative establishment, that would be a point in his favor. But more important to them, a President Pence would eliminate the greater-than-zero possibility that Donald Trump will pull down his pants and take a hot dump on the Oval Office carpet during a televised interview, not to mention the even more disgusting possibility of Fox News and “Heartland America” praising such behavior as presidential.
There’s just one problem. It may already be too late for them.
There is an article in The American Conservative where columnist Rod Dreher analyzes the potential impact of Trump’s abortive ban on trans people in the military. He refers to other columns by National Review staffer David French and liberal writer Josh Barro, who both point out that whatever the military merits of such a ban, Trump’s strategy, or lack thereof, was the worst way to propose such a policy. French says “(Trump’s) typical inflammatory tweeting was guaranteed to ignite yet another round of public fury. He virtually guaranteed that the next Democratic president would immediately reverse his policy, and he made any congressional debate that much more challenging. Here’s what actual presidential leadership would look like. After permitting his respected secretary of defense to comprehensively study the issue of transgender service, he would draft a carefully written, factually supported statement describing in detail the military justifications for the policy. Then, with the full, prepared backing of the Pentagon, he’d approach a Republican-controlled Congress and write his policy into law — creating a far more permanent standard that couldn’t be quickly reversed by the next administration and wouldn’t jerk the military into a game of culture-war hot potato depending on whose party controls the White House. But that’s hard work. It’s much easier just to tweet.” Barro concurs: “By seeking to bar transgender people from the military, Trump makes the fight all about public policy. And he moves the public discussion of transgender people to some of the most unfavorable political ground possible for conservatives: Should people who wish to serve their country in a way Trump never did be allowed to do so? Democrats shouldn’t worry they’ll get in trouble for saying yes.”
By knowing nothing and caring less, Trump makes things that much harder for conservatives on an issue where he should be able to frame the debate on socially conservative and pro-military terms. Just as a population that was largely sympathetic to cracking down on scary immigrants was turned off by the treatment of legal aliens by this Administration. Just as Trump and Republicans enabled each other to create the worst of all possible worlds with healthcare and created a system that cost more and covered less, mainly to pass costs from rich people’s taxes to poor people’s deductibles, then wondered why no one wanted to kill Obamacare anymore.
This is the sort of rhetorical victory that the Left spectrum could never achieve on the merits of their own program. Likewise conservatives didn’t win because they had better ideas- they didn’t. Conservatives just managed to make people hate liberals more. It was easy given how insufferable some of their followers are. But for the most part liberals aren’t also out-and-proud bigots, and Democrats weren’t trying to actively destroy their own benefits program for the sake of their donors’ tax returns.
Republicans did not win elections because they were popular, because they had good ideas, or because they had a mandate. They won because voters hated their opponent more, or did not hate them enough to come out and vote. They fail to consider that if you get voters sufficiently pissed off, that dynamic may reverse.