Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall makes a really important point. In a post reflecting on the various reasons that the rollout of the proposed healthcare overhaul has been going so badly, he points to the important role of a President in the passage of complex or controversial legislation.
True, the health-care bill has numerous glaring defects. As Marshall also points out, the defects should have been expected, since the GOP has been promising to do something that is basically impossible–continuing to cover people while offering more carrots and employing fewer sticks.
Even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency, the bill faces formidable obstacles. Major stakeholders hate it, Republican lawmakers are divided, and the bill won’t get a single Democratic vote. Faced with significant opposition, what is needed is what Marshall calls “the mix of formal and informal powers, favors and threats, public presence, the ability to protect or punish” that only a President can bring to bear.
This is something President Trump has shown virtually no interest in doing. We’re at roughly a month and a half into the administration. The GOP has unified control of the government and yet no significant legislation has moved at all. That is a stunning reality which the storm and chaos of Trump’s short presidency has largely obscured. But it is an almost unprecedented development. Some of this may be an inherent limitation because the President came into office as a minority President. But as I argued a month ago, the President simply has no appetite for the hard work of passing laws. He has defaulted to rolling out executive order after executive order, in most cases Potemkin decrees with vaguely legalistic language and limited actual impact. Like so much with Trump, it’s a mix of authoritarianism on the one hand and impatience and flimflam on the other. The upshot isn’t so much a poor man’s as a lazy man’s authoritarianism.
I think it is deeper than Trump’s obvious aversion to actual work. It is equally obvious that he has not the faintest understanding of how government actually works–and even less interest in learning what he doesn’t know. He is used to running a family business where he issued orders and people who were related to him and dependent upon his largesse obediently followed them. He wasn’t even the typical CEO of a publicly-traded company who would at least have to answer to a Board of Directors and shareholders.
A diligent and intellectually curious person with Trump’s background would be disadvantaged by that lack of relevant experience. Trump is neither diligent nor intellectually curious (judging from his vocabulary and spelling of his tweets, he isn’t even very bright). Several of the skills that Marshall identifies as critical to the passage of legislation are simply beyond his capacity to acquire or exercise, and his self-obsession precludes any engagement in the sorts of “schmoozing” required to cajole recalcitrant lawmakers. (It is impossible to imagine Trump strategically stroking the egos of crucial legislators.)
Ironically, the very traits that make Trump so manifestly unqualified for the Presidency may end up saving healthcare….