The shift that the Republican party has undergone—from its position as an opposition party to that of a governing party—has not been a particularly smooth one. Despite Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, which would typically assist in propelling right-wing legislation introduced by the president, there has been an increasingly evident disconnect between the blustering rhetoric of our commander-in-chief and the priorities of those around him, even those aligned with his ideals. Their most jarring collective failure to date was the bungled attempt in March to vote on the short-lived American Health Care Act; despite Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s insistence that fellow Republicans had “no choice” but to support the bill, it was clear that there would not be enough support to make it a reality. Trump campaigned on the promise of repealing Obamacare on “day one,” but it seems as if his self-proclaimed, deal-crafting prowess fell woefully short during his first shot at a major policy reversal, despite what should have been overwhelming support by his party members. What is the cause of this discrepancy, and how could he have failed at winning over even his own side?
One of the primary difficulties lies in the logistics of pandering to two dramatically different factions of the GOP—the staunchly traditionalist alt-right vs. conservatively-aligned political moderates. Reconciling the priorities of these two sub-parties has proved to be increasingly difficult as Trump pushes more and more controversial measures.
Interestingly, one of the most significant roadblocks to passing the AHCA was opposition from The House Freedom Caucus, a group of “hard-right” lawmakers who, despite prompting multiple revisions to the bill meant to appease them specifically, believed that the AHCA was not harsh enough. The fact that an estimated 24 million people would lose coverage under the proposed bill, while enough to deter the support of more moderate Republicans, was less of a concern than the many similarities to Obamacare that the HFC claimed to observe. Without the support of the moderates or the most right-wing of right-wingers, the AHCA was doomed from the start.
After standing by the “repeal and replace” mantra, and Republicans nationwide fighting tooth and nail against the perceived horrors of Obamacare for the past seven years, it’s ironic that intra-party divisions (and not direct liberal opposition) were the cause of the AHCA’s failure. Between the moderates who came this far out of partisan loyalty but are beginning to question the morality of some recent policies’ harshness, the alt-right who call for complete upheaval and a total departure from populist support, and those Republicans suspended in limbo somewhere in the middle, surmounting these deep-seated divisions will prove to be no easy task.
It looks like for now, Obamacare is here to stay; and until Trump and those driving his policies can find an appropriate middle ground to appease the warring factions of the party they represent, his leadership will undoubtedly continue to be viewed with even more skepticism and scrutiny than if he had succeeded at pushing his bill with a Republican majority. The days from now onward will be critical in determining the reach of his leadership and ability to prove his proficiency in “the art of the deal” within the political arena; he can’t be helping his cause by calling the loyalty of other party members into question or berating those who hold him back, and some can’t help but wonder if the GOP as we know it is on the road to self-destruction.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders emphasized during the Our Revolution rally in Boston on Friday, this division provides a prime opportunity for the Democratic Party to step up and completely reform itself, citing the belief in “a progressive agenda” held by the majority of Americans. “When we transform the Democratic Party, we transform America,” he proclaimed, and the stage may indeed be set for a total recasting of Democratic ideals in the wake of the Republican rise to power- and where the GOP can’t succeed, perhaps others can.
Needless to say, momentum is building on both sides of the political coin, and the need for large-scale change is evident. It may be up to the moderates within the GOP to call upon their moral convictions and continue to unite against the most inhumane of Trump’s policies; however, this will clearly continue to drive a wedge into the unity of the party and may set the tone for a major shift in Americans’ faith in the current governing body.