It Is About Leadership

It Is About Leadership

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Round one of the Trump-Ryan fight to repeal Obamacare ended on Friday. It is now a very open question in Washington whether there ever will even be a second round effort to overthrow the Affordable Care Act or whether the focus in healthcare will turn to fixing Obamacare. It is clear that the fight showed that both Trump and Ryan were not yet able to lead their party.

Friday’s events certainly indicated that admit it or not, Trump took a “huge” hit. To his credit the Speaker admitted the loss without blaming the Democrats, unlike the President who could not resist—despite a generally well-modulated post battle press conference–to blame the D’s for the fact that the bill went down in the House. For the Republican Party there is now a very serious internal fight to be waged to determine whither goes the party and who will lead it. (Curiously, the only Republican leader to emerge unscathed from this battle was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who stood aside as the various GOP party factions played ugly, nasty political games in the House. McConnell is now readying for the possible floor battle with Schumer over Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation.)

The House vote suggested that the Republican Party is being pulled in three directions. First, there is the traditional conservative Ryan-led right wing. Second, are the moderates who are the classic Republicans but who are declining rapidly although they remain a force. Finally, there is the Freedom Caucus of roughly 30 Republicans who take a very extreme conservative position on most issues.

The Republicans now must consider not only in what direction they will go in their legislative agenda, but whether they have a personal or ideological leader.  Do they proceed with tax reform or infrastructure as their next battle?  In neither case will the fight be as ugly as over the healthcare and in both instances if they proceed traditionally, there are likely to be opportunities to find the potential for some Democratic buy-in.

What is curious in this entire discussion about leadership is that few people are looking at the Democrats. No doubt that in Chuck Schumer they probably have the most skilled and adept floor manager and negotiator that they have had in years. Nancy Pelosi continues to manage the House remarkably well but she clearly is on the downslope with no significant young personality clearly in the wings.   

As for the national party, no voice has emerged to speak for the Democrats. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are fine senior party champions but they do not represent the future. Governor Andrew Cuomo or Senators Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, or Al Franken do not appear ready for primetime. If the Democratic Party is to take real advantage of the stumbling Trump Administration it must develop a voice to bell in the night and it must do so soon.

The 2018 elections will be extremely challenging for the Democrats and the next round of presidential craziness will be upon the country before one turns around. After the events of last week, it seems likely that the Republicans do not yet have it together to govern. In the legislative battles the Democrats have the strength to compete, but their national bench is not in place.

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