The Republican Party has been in crisis for several years now, and Trump, while he may be the party’s biggest problem at the moment, is not by any means the party’s only big problem. The party’s other big problem is the schism, particularly acute in the House, between the pragmatic conservatives–yes, they are quite conservative in their own right–and the ideologically pure ultra-conservatives. The ideologically pure ultras call themselves the Freedom Caucus, and are closely associated with the older and more familiar term, the Tea Party.
The Republican leaders and President Trump put together a bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. It would cut Medicaid spending, it would eliminate the personal mandate for carrying insurance, it would effectively dry up subsidies other than “tax credits,” and it would scale back the kinds of coverage that policies would be required to provide. It would keep the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, but it would leave a lot of people unable to afford insurance.
And who just stopped it from passing the House? The ultra-conservative Republicans who think it’s still too liberal. (Click here for Politico story, Friday afternoon, March 24, 2017.)
The bill had no Democratic support whatsoever, so it needed almost all of the Republicans to pass it. But even though the Republicans were in lockstep during the Obama administration to oppose most of Obama’s initiatives, they can’t agree on this one. Now, I’m not complaining–I’m a Democrat–but I find it interesting that the Republican Party, at a time when it’s more conservative than ever, can’t reach agreement on a bill that would seem to be this basic to what they claim they stand for. Again, I’m not complaining, just observing.
But there’s a key point that needs to be recognized here: a significant minority of the Republican Party in Congress would rather be ideologically pure than successful in passing a bill that just partially fulfills what they want to achieve. Ideological purity is most important to them. It’s akin to a religion: making a compromise, even with the moderates of their own party, is like being tempted by the Devil. And I want to stress that this schism in the party was evident two or three years ago, before Trump overshadowed it by giving the party an even bigger, or at least a more conspicuous and attention-grabbing, problem.
(On a side note, the Democratic Party is in crisis at the moment too. The number of major parties in this country that are not in serious states of crisis at the moment is zero.)