Matthew Yglesias explains why a White House staff shake up won't solve this administration's problems on vox.com.
In keeping with his background as a showman, publicity maven, and entertainer, Trump has been a consistently fascinating story, starting from the moment he descended the escalators at Trump Tower to denounce Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists and continuing through to the surprise launch of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.
Like the successful reality TV host he is, he’s always kept the drama turned up high. That’s how he managed to burn through an unprecedented number of campaign managers, while firing a national security adviser, and perhaps a chief of staff, within his first 100 days.
But while the entertainment value of the Trump presidency has been consistently high, the governance value has been consistently low. Which is why, traditionally, America has hired presidents with previous experience in the field of government.
The constant staff merry-go-round reflects the fact that Trump himself is bad at his job. He is impulsive, uninformed, and while often disengaged from the details of things, he’s also unwilling to relinquish control and delegate authority in a clear way.
But the most fundamental problem with the Republican Party legislative agenda has very little to do with Trump.
House Speaker Paul Ryan constructed an ambitious yet rickety framework that has proven unable to withstand contact with reality. The plan was to:
The basic problem with this scheme, as became clear after the election, was that its first plank — “repeal and delay” of Obamacare — lacked support in the Senate. Ryan acknowledged that this was true, but refused to acknowledge that this rendered the edifice he’d built on the foundation of repeal and delay unworkable. Instead, he decided to plunge ahead with a repeal-and-replace scheme that had to operate on the same aggressive timetable as the initial plan for a clean repeal vote, and that had to serve the same tax-cutting purposes.
Trump, it is true, arguably erred in agreeing to go along with this doomed effort. But Mitch McConnell went along with it too, and on some level there’s simply nothing people in other branches can do about a runaway House speaker. To the extent that Trump intervened in this debate in a relevant way, it was to break the news to the House that repeal and delay was dead in the Senate and they shouldn’t bother with it — an insight that was both substantively and strategically correct.
There’s no doubt that a certain number of amateur-hour antics emanating from the White House have exacerbated the GOP’s governing troubles. The fact that neither Bannon nor Priebus has any relevant background in executive branch management surely isn’t helping here. But, fundamentally, when you elect an amateur president, you get an amateur-hour White House. Trump himself could step aside in favor of Mike Pence, a former governor of an actual state and a veteran Congress member, who would conduct himself in a professional manner. But short of that, there’s not much one can really do here.
Meanwhile, Pence or anyone else in the job would struggle with the Republican legislative agenda for the fundamental reason that it doesn’t make sense.
The Affordable Care Act promised to provide Americans with universal, comprehensive health insurance coverage. It brought us a lot closer to that goal, but it also fell short in a variety of ways. Republican spent years tapping into public frustration with the ways it fell short to drive anger at the law. But from day one, they have proposed replacing it with measures that would move us further from what voters want — covering fewer people, raising deductibles, making insurance less useful to the sick — rather than closer, in order to pursue a policy agenda of tax cuts on the rich that isn’t even popular among rank-and-file GOP voters.
This bait-and-switch agenda is reasonably clever if you accept the key premise that Republicans must find some kind of way to advance an unpopular tax-cutting agenda. But it’s objectively difficult to pull off because inability to communicate honestly about what you’re doing undermines internal communication, and because the practical consequences of enacting an agenda that delivers the opposite of what was promised are inherently problematic.
To the extent that Trump has anything to do with these problems, it’s that the intellectual and ideological shambles of modern conservatism made the Republican Party primary process more vulnerable to takeover by a mountebank like Trump than it should have been. But the shambles itself long predates Trump, and fixing it would require something much bigger than a staff shake-up.
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