Can This Relationship Survive? | The Weekly Standard

Can This Relationship Survive? | The Weekly Standard.

Trump and Ryan need each other.
For decades, a favorite pastime of the Washington press corps has been to find “daylight” between the president and the vice president—a difference of opinion, a dislike, a secret irritation. But not any more.

The media’s obsession now is “daylight” between President Donald Trump and House speaker Paul Ryan. The media are not alone. Trump allies who detest Ryan are even more eager to find differences. Personal ones could explode the relationship between the speaker and the president, and a blowup is what they desire.

Is this petty? Sure, but political alliances have been shattered over small conflicts. And some Trump supporters want him to dump Ryan and his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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Art credit: GARY LOCKE

For decades, a favorite pastime of the Washington press corps has been to find “daylight” between the president and the vice president—a difference of opinion, a dislike, a secret irritation. But not any more.

The media’s obsession now is “daylight” between President Donald Trump and House speaker Paul Ryan. The media are not alone. Trump allies who detest Ryan are even more eager to find differences. Personal ones could explode the relationship between the speaker and the president, and a blowup is what they desire.

Is this petty? Sure, but political alliances have been shattered over small conflicts. And some Trump supporters want him to dump Ryan and his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. This would be a mistake on Trump’s part—and would delight the media and Democrats. Yet the Trump-Ryan tie is fragile.

There’s an overriding factor that draws them together: Trump and Ryan need each other. The process of liquidating Obamacare is difficult. To prevent a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, Republicans are forced to use “reconciliation,” which allows them, with 51 votes, to get rid of spending and taxes in Obamacare but leaves its regulations and broad framework in place. Reconciliation also requires a specific “Byrd rule” to be met. It’s a necessary tool but hardly an efficient one.

Ryan’s strength is that he has a plan. No one else does. Other Republicans have ideas: generally bad ones. Senator Lindsey Graham would let Obamacare collapse on its own. But this would cause millions to lose their health insurance and rates to rise. Republicans would be blamed. Senator Tom Cotton wants to put off a vote for months. That’s not likely to ease passage of repeal and replace. And it would be viewed as a setback for Trump, Ryan, and the GOP agenda. At the least, it would be a temporary retreat.

Though Ryan has promised to make small changes, there’s not much he can do to mollify critics of his plan. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus would speed up the reform of Medicaid, but that would drive away moderates. Moderates would increase the tax credits that subsidize health insurance for the poor. That would upset conservatives.

To get the bill through the House, Trump’s full-throated support is indispensable. And he is already helping. He has met with Freedom Caucus members and moderates. He’s made phone calls. He sounded queasy about the whole process last week in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. But he’s still on board.

Meanwhile, the anti-Ryan clique that operates on the fringe of Trump’s orbit hasn’t let up. Its appeal is to Trump’s ego, insinuating that Ryan is an evil genius who has tricked him into backing a bill that would keep Obamacare alive.

“I think Paul Ryan’s selling him a bill of goods that he didn’t explain to the president,” Republican senator Rand Paul told CNN. Eric Bolling of Fox News wrote that the “establishment GOP [has] pulled a fast one on President Trump.”

Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that congressional leaders have insisted the bill must be passed as soon as possible and dispatched to the president. That’s true, but Trump himself has also been urging Congress to act quickly.

Laura Ingraham, the talk-radio host and a friend of Trump, said on Fox News that the Ryan bill is a “trap.” She said she’d like “to spend an hour talking” to Trump about it. “I think this is a trap set for Trump and it’s going to be bad” if he seeks reelection in 2020.

Breitbart, the relentlessly anti-Ryan website, has chimed in. It released, with maximum hype, an audio from last October just after the raunchy Access Hollywood tape had rocked the Trump campaign. The audio features Ryan. “On a never-before-released .  .  . call with House Republican members,” Ryan told his colleagues: ‘I am not going to defend Donald Trump—not now, not in the future.’ ”

Ryan’s comments were widely reported at the time, but the audio was new. “Now Ryan,” Breitbert’s Matthew Boyle wrote, “has pushed President Donald Trump to believe his health care legislation .  .  . would repeal and replace Obamacare when it does not repeal Obamacare.”

Perhaps the blast from the past could chill the Trump-Ryan relationship, but there’s no evidence it has. Ryan gets along with Trump and has worked closely with White House staffers. But presidential counselor Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart, is not regarded as an ally of Ryan. Bannon, by the way, has hired ex-Breitbart writer Julia Hahn as an assistant at the White House. She accused Ryan last year of favoring Hillary Clinton over Trump in the election.

The fusillade from the Trump right wasn’t the only hit on the Ryan plan. The Congressional Budget Office offered its assessment, and the media did their best to make it appear far worse. CBO is notorious for shoddy reports. It predicted Obamacare would sign up 23 million people. It peaked at 12 million.

If the Ryan plan is enacted, there would be 14 million fewer Americans with health insurance in 2018. The media either said 14 million would “lose” their insurance, thanks to Ryan, or reported the drop in the number of insured without explaining why.

Republicans panicked. They settled down only after learning the 14 million were mostly those who, once the individual mandate is gone, would choose not to buy health insurance. In other words: consumer choice. Others were counted as uninsured if they would be eligible for the expanded Medicaid that would be abolished under the Ryan plan.

Absent the discovery of embarrassing “daylight” between Trump and Ryan, it stands to reason the president will stick with Ryan. There’s a simple reason: Trump wants to redeem his promise to jettison Obamacare and the Ryan plan is the only way.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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