Republicare dead in Senate; McConnell humiliated; Priebus returned to puzzle box

The Senate Republican Caucus

Good news for freelancers with trick shoulders: Senate Majority Leader Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell has declared that there will be no vote on the Senate bill to replace Obamacare. This turn of events is a blow to the Republican agenda and, frankly, satisfying comeuppance after listening to them rail againast the Affordable Care Act for the last seven years. It is easy to find fault. It is not so easy to find workable solutions, as McConnell discovered over the past few weeks. He lamented the phenomenon in this statement, which also proposes a terrifying idea:

“Make sure to emphasize that Obamacare is the real failure,” he told his staffers. Also note the appearance of the word “immediately” in the established phrase “repeal and replace,” like a guest star who comes on in the last episode of a long-running drama to take the fall. So we failed to replace Obamacare immediately. We’re still going to replace it. What do you say we just repeal it now and replace it later?

Fortunately, the New York Times reports that plan dead on arrival. The same Republican senators who did not want to take health insurance from millions and give them savings accounts also did not want to take health insurance from millions and give them a timeline. For now, at least, the effort to repeal Obamacare has failed decisively—even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the executive branch when “Watters’ World” isn’t on.

What does it all mean? I don’t think we can call this a triumph of Democratic opposition. Various operatives, particularly Andy Slavitt, have kept up a steady drumbeat against the Republican plan, but it’s hard to argue they stopped it. McConnell scratched his vote because a handful of Republican senators wouldn’t go along. They were the usual moderate naysayers: Murkowski and Collins, plus Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia. Their persistent refusal could mean a few things:

  1. The GOP has drifted so far to the right on issues of social welfare as to lose the moderate members of its caucus.
  2. The bill under consideration was so particularly bad for women that these three women objected.
  3. Contemporary Republican politics is vigorous as a critique of liberalism but morbid as an approach to governance.

Guess which explanation I favor. The Republican lifestyle brand as we know it today was forged in opposition to Barack Obama. He was the smooth-talking biracial latte drinker atop the pyramid of liberal power, and they were the Real Americans who said no. Over the last nine years, the outlines of this coalition have become remarkably clear. You can guess whether someone votes Republican by their car, their facial hair, their music and TV habits, their religion—any number of cultural signifiers. This cultural coalition is the one that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, but it is not a coalition of political interests. Once you have to start making concrete policy choices, the Republican coalition falls apart.

How many interests do a West Virginia coal miner and a Chicagoland hedge fund manager have in common? What health care policy goals does Peter Thiel share with Ted Cruz’s dad? All four of these people are likely to agree on the issue of President Obama, but it’s harder to think of what else might bring them together. Right now, the GOP base consists of whites with high school diplomas, the investor/rentier class, evangelical Christians and libertarian idealists. A parliamentary system would put these demographics in at least three different parties. The contemporary Republican coalition has brought them all together, but it is not well suited to governance, because it is not an alignment of natural political interests.

It’s a great way to get a bunch of people all watching the same TV network or voting against the same lady. But it has yet to be fully tested as a machine for solving the country’s problems or even passing substantive legislation. After nine years of tenacious opposition, the need to cooperate may be what finally shakes the modern GOP apart.

Quist is a deadbeat. Gianforte is rich. You love the rich guy, right?

From an ad by friends of in-touch tech multimillionaire Greg Gianforte

Montana’s special election is one week away, and the Rob Quist campaign is starting to look like a series of unforced errors. Let us begin with his nomination. Quist was handpicked by the Democratic Party, not by the usual primary system. Somehow, no one in that august political body thought to run a credit check. Pretty much the first story that came out was about the liens filed against their candidate for unpaid property taxes in 2011 and the bill for which he stiffed a contractor in 2001. I can see such problems haunting a popular favorite, but the Democrats chose Quist for his electability. Surely there was some other Democrat in the state who lacked not just political experience but also a debt trail.

Fortunately, the Quist campaign is staffed by experienced operatives from the state party. These old hands know the voters of Montana well enough to find sure ways to distinguish Quist from his opponent—for example, by running the exact same campaign ads. That’s how you win as a Democrat: by acting like a Republican. This principle explains why Quist downplayed his support for single-payer health care and emphasized his support for guns. It also explains why Hillary Clinton is president now. It does not explain why campaign manager Les Braswell accidentally tweeted  as The Montana Cowgirl from the Quist campaign account, but we can’t explain everything. He probably got hacked.

Anyway, the Democratic Party is incompetent, even in the last best place. Facing an opponent who just lost a statewide election for governor in which he underperformed the top of his ticket by 20 points, they appear to be headed for defeat. Now is the time to reflect on deep questions. My deepest: In the present economic climate, how is being rich not the biggest obstacle a candidate can face?

American inequality is the worst it’s been in 100 years. Montana has the second-lowest per capita income of any state in the Union, and a politically inexperienced billionaire is on the verge of impeachment in Washington. Yet Quist has said nothing meaningful about inequality. Republicans, convinced we love millionaires as much as they do, are using his personal debts as a cudgel. Call me a pinko, but I wonder if voters might identify more with the guy whose $20,000 debt is wrecking his life than the guy who sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion. You can read all about this strange discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. It’s a particularly exciting issue, containing not just my inchoate palaver but also the story of a growing schism in the Montana Libertarian Party and your girl Michael Siebert’s feature-length essay on why the left should embrace gun ownership. Check ’em out. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

What doesn’t Donald Trump know?

Very little

Combat! blog has been crushed under an avalanche of work today and whimpers from the rubble but faintly. The world doesn’t stop for us to make money, though. Among other people whose work experience consists of pretending to have big, dynamic ideas on whatever subject is presently at hand, history continues apace. Yesterday, on Twitter, President Trump sang the praises of Republicans’ new bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which may come to the House for a vote this week. “New healthcare plan is on its way,” he tweeted. “Will have much lower premiums & deductibles while at the same time taking care of pre-existing conditions!” As Robert Pear of the New York Times drily put it, “Which bill Mr. Trump was referring to is not clear.”

He probably means the new version of Trumpcare, which “takes care” of people in the mafia sense of the phrase. One of the concessions that makes this bill more appealing to conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus is a waiver that will allow states to let insurers charge higher premiums to customers with pre-existing conditions. The bill would also remove minimum coverage requirements that are currently part of Obamacare. That takes care of pre-existing conditions only in that it will let insurers charge prohibitively high premiums to cover them. For example, before the Affordable Care Act, I had a $38,000 deductible on my left shoulder because of previous injuries. That was basically the same as not having insurance, except I still paid premiums every month.

As for Trump’s promise of “much lower premiums and deductibles,” that might be true, if anyone cared to find out. Although the last bill Republicans proposed was expected to raise premiums 15% to 20% next year, no such information is known about the current bill. Rep. Chris Collins (R-New York) told the Times that House Republicans are “not planning to seek a new cost-and-impact estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.”

Whatever—the president is just going to say a bunch of stuff anyway. Also this weekend, Trump gave an interview to Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner, in which he compared himself to Andrew Jackson. If you’re thinking that’s kind of an odd choice of role model—given that he was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Indians and wrecked the economy by eliminating the Bank of the United States—you have made a classic error. President Trump is not familiar with American history. I quote the leader of the free world:

People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

When Trump says “people don’t realize this,” he means “I just learned this.” Given that he attended high school 50 years ago, you can almost forgive him for saying “people don’t ask” the question that literally every American history class asks. But Jesus Christ, man, he went to the United States Military Academy and then Wharton. He is the president of the United States. Is it too much to expect him to muster a B-level understanding of the most significant event in American history?

Anyway, Trump’s assertion that Jackson “was really angry what he saw with regard to the Civil War; he said, ‘There’s no reason for this'” is not true. Jackson did not say that, and he died 15 years before the war broke out. But who cares, right? The president says some stupid shit that literal schoolchildren know is not true, and it doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Nuke Korea, bankrupt me because I dislocated my shoulder again—the important thing is that a bunch of Jimmy Buffett fans got revenge on college students for not being able to say the n-word anymore. America is great, again.

Eugene Graf IV, less humorous candidates vie for Zinke’s seat

Congressional candidate and caricature of a rich grandson Eugene Graf IV

Since Donald Trump announced his plan to appoint as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Montana’s sole representative in the US House, no fewer than six Republicans have threatened to campaign for his seat. Six! One of them is Eugene Graf IV, the scion of a Bozeman real estate fortune pictured above. Graf: He doesn’t remember shoving you into anything. As much as I would like to see Montana politics return to old-school corporatocracy, Graf is a long shot. He has not previously run for elected office, and his work experience is limited to working for his family business and, as past president of the Montana Homebuilders Association, lobbying for his family business. Yet he is sure to meet one qualification for office: the $1,740 fee the Montana Republican Party is charging each candidate to run.

That fee—set by state law at 1% of the salary of the office sought—is designed to defray the cost of organizing statewide primaries. It seems a little odd to charge it for candidates in this special election, where a nominee will be chosen not by primaries but by members of the state Republican committee. The food at that meeting is going to be great, I guess. Assuming he ponies up, the most likely nominee seems to be Ed Buttrey, a moderate Republican credited with orchestrating the compromise that allowed Montana to accept federal Medicaid funds last session. Among conservatives, of course, that’s a debit. But they have yet to put up a candidate of their own who can plausibly threaten him. This makes Buttrey’s run a barometer in the ongoing conflict between moderates and the right wing in Montana’s GOP. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Why read about the recent past, though, when you can focus on the future? This week marks the Indy’s annual Bold Predictions issue, in which various people including me speculate on what 2017 will bring in Missoula, Montana, and the world. My first two bold predictions, made in 2013 and 2014, crushed it: Missoula really did set out to buy the water works in 2014, and conservatives in the legislature really did overplay their hand in 2015. Last year’s prediction—that Uber would put at least one of Missoula’s two taxi companies out of business—has yet to come true. But there’s still time! Keep watching this space or even some more reliable news outlet for updates on my prediction for 2017, which is that Republicans will become staunch defenders of Medicaid until they can blame someone else for taking it away. I also predict we’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.

After bruising news cycle, Trump says he “may go a different route”

Donald Trump at Marla Maples at the US Open in 1991—photo: Timothy Clary

Donald Trump and Marla Maples at the US Open in 1991—photo: Timothy Clary

According to its FEC filing, the Trump campaign raised $3.1 million dollars in May, compared to $27 million donors gave to Hillary Clinton. That’s a startling gap, especially considering Trump clinched the nomination on May 3. Possibly in response to this dismal performance or maybe because of everything else he ever did, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski got fired yesterday. It’s fun when Trump does that on television, but political people tend to interpret it as a sign of weakness. It was such a tough day that the pathologically sanguine candidate struck a glum note. This morning, he called in to Fox and Friends and complained that he wasn’t getting enough support from Republicans. “It would be nice to have full support from people that are in office, full verbal support,” he said. “With all of that being said, I may go a different route if things don’t happen.”

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