by Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY Opinion
The Freedom Caucus is the tail that aspires to wag a whole country though it represents just a sliver of Americans. Even within the House it’s outnumbered by moderate centrists.
President Trump greets US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer(L), D-NY.
(Photo: Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump wrote a book on deals, and so did I. Mine is shorter and didn’t sell quite as many copies, but it was a deep dig into how political agreements are born. The process — slow, plodding, painstaking, strategic, and did I mention slow? — is nothing like what went on with Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Nothing at all.
As a citizen, I’m thrilled by the lightning round between the Republican president and his two Democratic amigos. It feels strange but wonderful to get hurricane aid, keep the government in business and increase the U.S. borrowing limit (sparing the world a financial crisis) — all before we even began to type our traditional angst-ridden headlines about polarization, paralysis and brinksmanship.
As a liberal, I’m also pretty psyched. If Pelosi (the House Democratic leader) and Schumer (her Senate counterpart) are even half the geniuses Republicans seem to think they are, Democrats may be well positioned to help protect undocumented young immigrants in a program Trump just canceled, and to keep a lid on the deliverables to rich people who are anticipating huge tax cuts.
If I were a centrist Republican, I’d be intrigued by this hint of bipartisanship. Could it be that the GOP fever is finally breaking, five long years after Barack Obama predicted it would? If so, all it has taken is Obama’s exit from the stage, absolute Republican power, and a president like Trump.
It turns out that a lot of what Obama did wasn’t so god-awful. The problem was who did it (him) and in some cases how he did it — executive actions or, heaven forbid, party-line votes. Quick, pass the smelling salts.
The latest of many examples is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. In the absence of congressional action on a new immigration law, Obama unilaterally started a permit system so people brought here illegally as children could work and study without fear of deportation. The conservative backlash was ferocious.
But now that Trump has canceled it, with a six-month grace period for Congress to “do your job,” as he put it, a growing number of Republicans — including Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan — are looking for an escape hatch. Whose idea was it, anyway, to destroy the lives of some 800,000 young people who are working, studying and have never broken the law? Who are engines of our economy, or could be, if we let them stay? It turns out it’s not popular to kick the “dreamers” out of America.
Turns out as well that repealing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is not popular either — especially when the Congressional Budget Office has found that every variation on a replacement would cost people more, take away consumer protections, and insure far fewer — up to 24 million fewer in one case. Those protesting repeal at town meetings included conservatives and Trump voters as well as liberal Democrats. Those seeking a bipartisan compromise to stabilize markets and improve the law include more than a few Republican senators and governors. Those trying to get Congress to abandon repeal and move on include … Trump. At least as of Friday.
It wasn’t popular to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, as Trump has done. It wouldn’t be popular to weaken fuel efficiency standards developed by the Obama administration, with consumers or even apparently with the auto industry.
And it won’t be popular if, as expected, the tax “reform” push by Trump and congressional Republicans turns out to be mostly about tax cuts for the rich. Three-quarters of Americans say Trump should not lower taxes on the wealthy and close to that many said a year ago that taxes should be raised on the wealthy.
Buoyed by gerrymandering and cultural shifts, Republicans have had years of success winning elections at every level. They have mistaken that as popular support for free-market health care, trickle-down economics, extensive deregulation and callous social policies. Will months of failure on Obamacare repeal, capped perhaps by a groundswell of support for DACA, finally drive the message home?
The aggressively conservative House Freedom Caucus has been like the tail wagging the GOP and aspiring to wag the whole country. But its three dozen hard-core conservatives don’t represent anything close to a majority of Americans. Even within the House, they may be outnumbered by the moderate centrists of the Tuesday Group, estimated to have as many as 50 members.
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Ronna McDaniel, chairman of the Republican National Committee, says it’s going to be hard for the GOP to win the 2018 elections if “we haven’t accomplished the things that we ran on.” Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, predicts “rebellion against everybody” if the GOP doesn’t repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Yet rebellion seems inevitable, either from angrily ideological primary voters or more practical, middle-of-the-road general-election voters. Both Meadows and McDaniel have it backwards. They should, and yes, I’m really going to say this, take a tip from Trump: Look at today’s political and fiscal realities, step away from their absolutism, and deal with the world as it is.