Trump tried to burn down Obamacare. He set his hair on fire instead | Ross Barkan

Ross Barkan
‘Trump isn’t the deal-making genius his ego tricked himself into believing he was.’ Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Burning Obamacare to the ground was always a House Republican obsession that Trump, in the heat of the campaign, took up to spite the president while tossing a little red meat to Republicans. “Repeal and replace” is alliterative, after all: it sounds nice enough on an arena stage. It’s just hard to pull off in the real world, as Donald Trump found out on Friday.

Blessed with total control of government, Republicans can only think of how best to burn the house down – and they’re not even doing a good job at that. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, unjustly heralded as a policy wonk, tried to rush his healthcare bill to the floor for a vote on Thursday, only to find the moderates and extremists in his party rebelling. On Friday, Donald Trump was forced to pull the bill, due to lack of support from his own party.

It was a humiliating defeat, which he tried to blame – unbelievably – on the Democrats.

Ryan’s Trumpcare was a horrendous concoction and should disabuse fawning congressional reporters of the notion that the speaker is a man of deep intellect and self-reflection. Had the bill not fallen flat on its face this Friday, it would have had little chance of passing the Senate.

What remains is the fact that Donald Trump couldn’t close the deal. He is hoping everyone blames Ryan, and Trump is lucky that his supporters might do just that. The diehards, inhabiting his post-factual universe, will simply write Ryan off as a loser – they hated him anyway – and hail their king for the bounties he’s still promising.

But healthcare will ultimately be Donald Trump’s problem. That’s how our politics work. So far, the president has been more fatuous than fascistic, though he belatedly realized what an albatross the bill had become. His negotiating powers, whatever they ever were, failed.

Were Trump the deal-making genius his ego tricked himself into believing he was, he would never have taken up this healthcare venture. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17% of Americans approved of Trumpcare. Trump’s poorest and least educated supporters had much to lose and nothing to gain from the legislation.

That’s why demolishing Obamacare never made sense. After all, Trump, via Steve Bannon, promised economic nationalism, a robust spending plan for those who he believed deserved it most: the white and native born. Trump wasn’t going to lose any votes by focusing on immigration and infrastructure spending at the expense of Obamacare, which rank-and-file conservatives resent less now that Obama himself has been removed from the equation.

Far from upholding the most basic protections for the working-class, the Trump administration has, instead, evolved into one of the most rightwing in recent memory. It is stocked with the kind of appointees (Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price) who could have been plucked from Congress by Presidents Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

This is the difference between Trump and someone like the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader who identifies closely with the billionaire. Le Pen’s fiscal platform is unapologetically leftist, rejecting the austerity measures embraced by Europe’s financial class.

Trump rages with all the hate of Le Pen and none of the savvy. Blaming Ryan for Trumpcare’s failure will not absolve him of trying to do a very stupid thing. If he chooses to weaken healthcare in other ways – to somehow prove Obama left the country with a self-destructing system – he’ll still be the president when premiums skyrocket as insurers struggle to adapt to this instability.

In 2018, 2019, and 2020, screaming Obama’s name won’t matter anymore. The country will just know President Trump and the damage being done.

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