Much of the political world — not just right-wingers but the mainstream media — is talking about Breitbart’s release of audio from October in which Paul Ryan, responding to Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, told House Republicans that he was through with Trump:
On a never-before-released private October conference call with House Republican members, House Speaker Paul Ryan told his members in the U.S. House of Representatives he was abandoning then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump forever and would never defend him ever again….
“I am not going to defend Donald Trump—not now, not in the future,” Ryan says in the audio….
I’m not sure why this is a huge story — this is the first time we’re hearing the tape, but we knew that Ryan said this at the time. Here’s Politico’s story on October 10:
Speaker Paul Ryan told House Republicans on a conference call Monday morning that he’s done defending Donald Trump and will focus on maintaining his party’s increasingly imperiled House majority, according to sources on the call.
Maybe it’s a big deal because — as Axios’s Jonathan Swan suggests — Donald Trump is, at heart, a pre-literate simpleton:
… conservatives who want to kill the House Obamacare replacement plan … know the President prizes personal loyalty over all else. Trump often talks about who was with him and who wasn’t. In that frame — it’s one thing for Trump to read about Ryan’s words in the papers. It’s quite another for him to hear the audio.
You may not all agree with me on this, but I believe Donald Trump can read. It’s obvious, however, that he doesn’t like to. Maybe the audio really will help turn him against Ryan, even though it’s not news.
And maybe the failure of this bill will help lead to an outcome Breitbart hinted at last week: Ryan’s removal from the office of Speaker. I don’t know whether a failure on repeal would lead him to resign and I don’t know whether a coup could be successful, but it seems possible, and it’s clearly what’s wanted by Breitbart — and by its former leader Steve Bannon.
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But what does Bannon want on health care? For that matter, what does Trump want? When I read the rest of the Breitbart story about the Ryan audio, I see a lot to suggest that the Ryan bill isn’t what Trump and True Conservatives want. But if that’s the case — and if Trump is, as his supporters keep telling us, both an extremely strong leader and a great dealmaker — why aren’t they actually strong-arming Ryan to get what they want into the bill?
From the Breitbart story:
Ryan has been unwilling to negotiate on the specifics of his bill, which has earned multiple negative monikers like “Obamacare 2.0,” “Obamacare Lite,” “RyanCare,” and “RINO-CARE” from detractors. But President Trump and his true allies, despite what Ryan’s allies inside the White House say publicly, have been much more willing to negotiate, according to House and Senate conservatives who have had direct conversations with the president.
What do you mean, “Ryan has been unwilling to negotiate on the specifics of his bill”? With Trump? The toughest man in the world? The awe-inspiring negotiator? You’re telling me that Trump is prevented from negotiating by Ryan? Weak!
… in conversations Breitbart News has had with no fewer than 15 other White House aides, including many on the press team, it is clear that the President and the senior Trump administration team are not happy with this bill’s lack of conservative support. The President and his team were assured by Ryan that conservatives would, in fact, be on board with it in the beginning, something that has turned out to not be accurate. Interestingly, much more so than Ryan and his House GOP leadership team, the White House is much more open to significant negotiation on the details in a healthcare bill—including the structure, vehicle, timeline and more. Several senior White House aides confirmed to Breitbart News that while the administration is publicly touting the bill as the party line, the President is much more willing to wheel and deal on this front than Ryan loyalists on his team would have anyone believe.
“The President gave Ryan a chance,” one source close to the President said. “If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”
Trump’s warning you kids! If you don’t settle down, he’s going to turn this car right around!
So Trump dislikes the bill, but even though he’s “the best negotiator on the planet,” he’s not negotiating. Why?
Why isn’t Trump publicly pulling his support for the bill? I know one theory is that the entire repeal effort is set up to make Ryan fail, and I know I’ve argued that Trump could escape blame for a failed repeal effort — but that’s hardly a certainty. His base wants the law to go, and to be replaced by something better, and failure is going to look like … well, failure.
If we were talking about a normal administration, I’d say that everyone from the president on down knows that any replacement that operates along right-wing lines is going to be a tremendous letdown to the public, including Trump voters, so proceeding with repeal is a fool’s errand — but I don’t know if these people are that smart. Certainly Trump isn’t. But in that case, they should have demanded that Ryan postpone repeal, probably indefinitely.
Ultimately, I don’t see how this accomplishes anything for the White House. It’s good for Bannon, assuming Bannon’s ultimate goal is to acquire Paul Ryan’s scalp. But even if Trump doesn’t lose support, I don’t see how he wins.
I guess his fans will really continue to believe he’s a great leader even when he fails to lead. Maybe they’ll see Ryan’s failure as proof of Trump’s greatness, even though the Trump of legend should have been able to turn that failure to success?
I really don’t understand these people.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog