Pointing fingers and ascribing malice in the wake of the aborted attempt last week to pass the American Health Care Act may be emotionally satisfying, but it is not constructive in the long run to effective team building. Rather, conservatives should use this as a learning opportunity to focus on four large factors that Republicans need to better address if they want to have greater success passing this and other major legislation.
1. Art of the Deal:
First, GOP needs work at the art of the deal. No side was without blame. Pretty rudimentary stuff needs correction.
For example, for those who wish to negotiate successfully, don’t have someone agree to your terms and then decide you actually need more. Also, trying to squeeze the last incremental gain out of a deal is more likely to be a deal breaker than a deal maker.
And while GOP leadership clearly believed they had been inclusive in producing this strategy and plan, to paraphrase the Wizard talking to the Tin Man — “It’s not how much you feel you’ve included people, it’s how included people feel they are.” Different strategies by some reports were never even considered. Many on the right were completely in the dark about the contents of the plan until it was released. And among those who were included, a number were surprised at how different the bill was than what they had been lead to expect.
Accordingly, as GOP leadership need to channel their inner-females — this is about inclusion and consensus, not apocalyptic fast track. Long, long before any legislation is made public, it would help to ensure that all stakeholders, including potential conservative critics, feel that they are part of the process, understand the constraints, agree on what a win looks like and how to get there, and are not blind-sided by the final product.
The failure of the AHCA is not as big a deal as it may presently feel: The issue will reprise, and this was just the GOP’s first big game of the season, with lots of green junior varsity players, too many quarterbacks, and weak coaching. And the cheerleaders on the sidelines, who thought their team was running to the wrong end of the field, rather than rallying the crowd, called for the tackling their own players. Even some of their players first disagreed on, and then moved, their own goalpost.
Sigh. But with practice, this team will get better.
2. Singing to, and beyond, the choir:
The right’s insistence on talking to their fan base (v. the left, which talks to swing voters) led to three problems.
The first was a myopic focus: fear of spring recess without being able to say they’d repealed ObamaCare, despite repeated warnings that the base wouldn’t see this partial repeal, that left all the high costs in place, as actual repeal.
Second, there was no clearly branded compelling narrative about their playbook, and its ends and means, that their team had bought into. Nor was there much proactive offense, hitting before they hit you, to keep the ball in hand and the opposition at bay. Rather, there was a real confusion, even among teammates, about the three phased game plan, with two-thirds of it quite hazy, uncertain, and even unlikely. (See: Phase 3 v. Senate filibuster — not pretty.) The conservative base is happy to go with either a passing game or a ground game if it’s clear it can win Trump’s promised repeal and replace. But here they were very unclear whether the way to win was passage or not.
Third, those first two factors led to plummeting public perception about the AHCA, pretty much across the board. Selling their ideas is not natural to the GOP, where almost all dollars are saved for campaigns, not policy advocacy, but it is a skill they will need to master if they want to implement their policies.
3. The Dog that Didn’t Bark:
President Trump said repeatedly that had he been free to do the politically smart thing, he’d have left the Affordable Care Act untouched for now. For all his endorsements of the bill, he never did the one thing that would almost certainly have moved more members to vote for it: undo the special congressional exemption from ObamaCare so Congress too can actually personally live under the law they want to keep.
When repeal comes up again, when it is truly Trump’s bill and his chosen timing, he will use whatever leverage he needs, and having deferred to congressional leadership this time around, it will be his playbook on the next go.
4. Hello, McConnell?:
Most importantly, had the AHCA also repealed the ObamaCare regulations that keep costs high, which the president wanted repealed but the Senate’s Byrd rules did not permit, all of the conservatives would have voted for it and the bill would have passed convincingly even if a few moderate votes were lost.
It is the Senate rules, not a philosophical divide among Republicans, that was ultimately responsible for the defeat of this bill.
Until the right understands and rectifies the structural problem of the abuse of the filibuster which denies consideration of so much legislation (which Harry Reid said the Democrats would rectify when they had the presidency and a senate majority), no amount of planning, popularization, and even presidential commitment will suffice.
The Senate’s GOP leadership may not want to face how the misuse of this rule is antithetical to the Senate’s very purpose. But once President Trump catches on, expect clearing the partisan obstacles to allowing debate of legislation to become a marker for serious swamp drainage, and enabling the wins that will make America great again.
Heather Higgins is President and CEO of the Independent Women's Voice.