It is clear that “Repeal and Replace,” the Republican mantra for several years, is dead. And while there were several who bear responsibility for its demise, none was more prominent than the Freedom Caucus. RINOcracy.com has never been an admirer of the Freedom Caucus and, indeed, our preferred term has been the Oozlum Caucus, named after the mythical bird that flies in ever-decreasing concentric circles until disappearing into its own fundament. And that was its flight path for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), as caucus members sought to extract ever larger and more mean-spirited concessions from the negotiating odd couple of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. In so doing, the Oozlums remained relentlessly oblivious to the fact that Obamacare was enjoying increased public support and that the supposed replacement had become a devastating caricature of Republican policy—providing tax cuts to the wealthy while depriving the middle class and the poor of benefits.
Nevertheless, the Freedom Caucus did, for the first time in its history, perform a distinct public service. By putting a stake through the heart of the AHCA, it relieved the Republican Party of the need to defend a law that, had it been enacted, would have been a major liability for Republicans in the elections of 2018 and beyond. Obamacare, is to be sure, a flawed system with genuine and serious problems: insurers leaving the market while escalating premiums, and co-pays and deductibles render its “insurance” illusory for many. Nevertheless, the AHCA gave every promise of being even worse. There was, of course, the possibility that, if the bill had passed the House, it would have either died or been radically improved in the Senate. But that prospect was uncertain and the process would have been, at best, a divisive and time-consuming distraction from other important issues and priorities.
Some have seen the defeat of the AHCA as a sign that the Freedom Caucus is more powerful than ever. There are, however, reasons to hope and believe that just the opposite may be true. By rejecting the pleas of the President and the Speaker, members of the caucus demonstrated that their loyalty is neither to the party nor its leaders but to their own narrow ideology and that of their most fevered constituents. Under the circumstances, both the House leadership and the President should seek to marginalize the Freedom Caucus by treating its members with, in the apt phrase of a past Speaker, the “minimum high regard” they deserve.
Going forward, the death of Repeal and Replace should not be long mourned. From its outset that phrase served far more effectively as a campaign slogan than as a serious policy. “Repeal” was easy enough to understand but without “Replace” was never realistic and Republicans could never come to a consensus on what the replacement should consist of. At this point it would be tempting for Republicans to claim, as President Trump has already done, that Obamacare will “explode” and that the Democrats and their leaders, notably Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, will be responsible. But that would be a grave error. While it is an exaggeration to claim that Obamacare will explode, or is in a “death spiral,” the system does have serious problems that, if left unattended, will get worse. And the public has a right to expect that their President will attempt to do something about them. It is time tor Repeal and Replace to be succeeded by Rescue and Repair.
In this case, Rescue and Repair will mean looking for solutions with the participation of Democrats and “moderate” Republicans—the latter defined for this purpose as everyone one except the Freedom Caucus and its ideological bedfellows in the Senate. Put another way, what the situation calls for is a revival of Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” wherein he sought to work with and between the more moderate members of both parties in Congress. That strategy was not uniformly successful, but among other things, it produced welfare reform, the signal accomplishment of Clinton’s administration, and also secured his re-election. Adopting such a strategy might seem to be an about face for Trump (whose first instinct is always to blame others for his misfortunes) but then, consistency has never been a hobgoblin of the Trumpian mind, so perhaps it is possible.