- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 30, 2017


Something’s missing. You’re the GOP, so you own the machinery of power at every level of government. Why? Because you have amazing majorities everywhere across America and boast a president who won an astounding 2,623 counties to Hillary Clinton’s 489 a few months ago.

But hold that bow. So far, you’ve kept your leadership under wraps. That’s why you fashioned, then yanked, an Obamacare repeal-replace bill that only 24 percent of Americans favored and 54 percent of GOP voters opposed.

How can you be the majority party yet not figure out how to make your own agenda rather than responding, every news cycle, to the Vladimir Putin topic of the day?

How can you have the presidency, Congress, 33 governors, 32 state legislatures and 55 percent of the seats in those state legislatures and yet seem shocked that the air you breathe has that skunk-like odor of loathing the press has for you? Every American capable of crossing the street in broad daylight always knew would be the case.

Why haven’t you used the machinery of publicity and persuasion of the White House, the Cabinet offices and the Congress? Why haven’t you used the countless conservative think tanks, associations and organizations around the country that are natural allies or can be made to see eye-to-eye with you on this or that issue — like, say, health care?

Missing leadership is why. As far back as the Reagan years, the White House had the leadership to instruct the Office of Public Liaison, for example, to do its job. It did just that, every day in every way.

It sold the president’s position on everything — whatever, you name it.

It hosted a steady stream of invited visitors from every conceivable association and organization representing agriculture, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, doctors, cancer researchers, insurance companies, carmakers and on and on.

Underlining just how much the Reagan GOP valued persuasion, each Office of Public Liaison meeting pushing a particular initiative or bill would end with the added appearance of a Marine lieutenant colonel named Oliver North, who was on the staff of the National Security Council. Why him? The Reagan White House, conducting the secret Iran-Contra exchanges, was intent on persuading the visitors of, well, the importance of Latin America.

Such an all-out persuasion campaign was nowhere to be found during what became tagged as the “Ryancare debacle” (or the “Trumpcare disaster” if actually enacted, according to many conservatives).

Except for President Trump urging passage but not explaining what’s in the bill worth conservatives’ support, there was no persuasion campaign.

Incredibly, the White House and GOP congressional leaders didn’t appear to lift a finger to recruit conservative organizations and think tanks to mount Ryancare persuasion campaigns among their various constituencies. Contrast that with House Majority Tom DeLay keeping a roll-call vote open till 5:50 a.m. to persuade the last two Republican holdouts whose votes were needed to pass the largest expansion of wealth transfers since the New Deal. Yes, that was a GOP administration.

So what went wrong this time? Not the House Freedom Caucus, whose conservatives members Mr. Trump — and other pundits who should have known better  — immediately accused of wrecking Paul Ryan’s bill. Mr. Trump seemed to be saying that Mr. Ryan had to yank Ryancare before a floor vote only because Freedom Caucus members were inflexibly wedded to free-markets and limited-government.

Maybe. Some call it habitually meeting Democrats halfway along the road to socialism, but that yearned-for flexibility on freedom’s principles was practiced by virtually every GOP Congress and under every Republican president except Ronald Reagan.

That GOP presidential and/or congressional flexibility expanded government’s reach, regulation, meddling and war-making  — and did so as much as, and often more than, any Democratic president and Congress. In each and every case, those flexible GOP presidents advanced the gigantism of American government after promising to do the opposite.

That’s why many conservative Republicans and most significantly, a startling number of largely apolitical non-voters thronged to Trump rallies and transformed themselves into excited followers of politics and actually flocked to the polls on Nov. 8, to the total astonishment of the politically attuned, including some pro-Trump types like me.

They didn’t believe any of the GOP politicians, even ones with conservative legislative records, would actually preside as a true fiscal conservative intent on pursuing meritocracy over entitlement and skeptical toward foreign interventionism. Only the ostentatiously wealthy, never-a-politician, dealmaker extraordinaire named Donald J. Trump could be counted on — at least more than the others — to do as he said and have the knowhow to do it.

Turns out, this first time out, he didn’t.

He didn’t say to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Ryan, “Here’s what I want in the bill — it’s everything this party has been saying for years it wants in health care. Write it, pass it and I’ll sign it.”

Didn’t happen.

Nor did the president have his Office of Public Liaison host every interest group and think tank interested in the issue for persuasion serial sessions. He didn’t call in the nation’s right-leaning TV and radio talk show hosts and print-digital pundits for a sell session. He didn’t suggest to the Republican National Committee and sister committees how they might lend a hand.

House Speaker Ryan didn’t take up the slack. He didn’t create a measure incorporating the Freedom Caucus’ highest desiderata, placating as much as possible the GOP moderates’ desires and personally selling the bill on the quality of its content, instead of on the desperate need to pass something. He didn’t suggest the White House assemble a persuasion campaign. Nor did the Senate.

The president could have said, “The devil with reconciliation rules in the Senate. Let’s pass this great conservative bill in the House and let the Democrats immolate themselves by voting against bringing premiums and deductibles down.”

He can do that now. Or agree with Mr. McConnell that both chambers bring to their respective floors a pure repeal bill, like the one sponsored sometime back by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Yes, some timorous moderates will worry that they will appear uncompassionate. You can hear them saying, “OMG! Won’t this un-enroll poor Obamacare enrollees — and won’t that mean they won’t vote for me next time?”

Not really. A repeal enacted today can be written to take effect two or three years later. That leaves plenty of time for Republicans in both houses to agree on and pass a good, conservative Obamacare replacement that lowers premiums, lowers deductibles, opens insurance to marketplace competition and returns the power of people to pick their doctors and plans.

Mr. McConnell and his Senate Republicans can get that ball rolling next week.

• Ralph Z. Hallow, chief political writer at The Washington Times, has covered Washington since 1982.


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