President Donald Trump has been checked and balanced. Now he has been defied.
The shelving of his health care overhaul -- despite an alliance with the House speaker and negotiating techniques that built a billion-dollar brand -- is a dramatic example of the limits of Trumpism, and of what a brash new president can hope to achieve.
Trump will take his political lumps for having his own party reject his top policy priority, despite the fact that nearly every Republican in Congress campaigned on the same side of “repeal and replace” for Obamacare. The blame will spread widely and deeply, with a share reserved for House Speaker Paul Ryan, the policy brains who could not deliver the votes in his own chamber.
Trump immediately blamed Democrats for offering unanimous opposition, declaring the “losers” to be the top House and Senate Democrats. Yet he also hinted at a particular frustration with members of the House Freedom Caucus -- the far-right members who held out for a more complete repeal of Obamacare.
“We learned a lot about loyalty,” the president said. “I’m disappointed. I’m a little surprised, to be honest with you.”
The Friday failure bookended a week in which the president lost both control and credibility, coming just days after FBI Director James Comey rebuked the president and pronounced that his agency is investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian operatives. Even a strong performance by his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, doesn’t change the fact that the Trump presidency crashed into sharp political realities this week.
It’s a brutal blow to the Trump agenda, one that will ripple through nascent legislative efforts in other areas. Yet there’s an intriguing flip side for Trump, who campaigned against Washington and leaders in both parties, and without a fixed ideology.
Trump may now feel liberated to abandon far-right elements of his own party. He’ll find it hard to appeal to willing collaborators on the Democratic side, but tax reform and an infrastructure package hold enticing possibilities for new partnerships.
Trump quickly pronounced that because, in his view, Obamacare is “exploding,” Democrats will be looking to work with him in the future on stronger health care reform. That sounds like happy talk, given his sharply partisan statements on the topic, but Trump has surprised before.
For Republicans, the work of governing goes on, with lessons learned. Ryan indicated that the rest of the GOP agenda remains intact, acknowledging disappointment but not any weakness.
“I don’t think this is prologue on other future things,” the speaker said.
Still, the Trump presidency stands diminished by the whirlwind repeal-and-replace push. The bravado is stripped away after members of his own party showed that they didn’t fear his political force.
The precious first 100 days are now nearly two-thirds complete. So far, Trump has been held back by the judicial branch and the legislative branch, as well as his own actions.