As any political scientist will tell you, presidents keep most of the promises they make on the campaign trail, or at least try to. It can be a little harder to judge members of Congress. Most have little power on their own; you may have voted for Congressman Forehead because he told you he would clean up Washington, revive the economy and protect Social Security, but he won’t be accomplishing those things single-handedly.
And yet there are times when a party makes a collective argument in a campaign, and we can look to see whether it followed through.
That’s one of the main functions the campaign serves: Each party tells the voters what the urgent challenges are and what it thinks needs to be done about them, and then the voters judge it on those agendas. And this year, the Republican Party could hardly have been clearer. Its agenda came down to two things:
- Protect Americans with preexisting medical conditions.
- Save us from a caravan of migrants filled with MS-13 gangsters, Middle Eastern terrorists, and probably a Nazgul or two, all of whom were on their way to kill you and your family.
Some candidates emphasized one more than the other, but that was the core of the Republican argument. So now that the election is over and Republicans still control the White House and the Senate, they’ll be keeping those promises. Right?
Weirdly enough, they will. How? By making them disappear. Let’s start with the first promise. This was one of the most shocking collective lies in memory, as the entire GOP did an abrupt 180-degree turn to claim that it was firmly, passionately committed to maintaining the protections in the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have been fighting to destroy ever since the law was signed in 2010.
While they obviously couldn’t say so explicitly, at times it sounded as though they had literally switched sides and were now battling to protect the ACA from some unnamed antagonist, which of course was themselves. To take just one example, Martha McSally, who may or may not be the next senator from Arizona (votes are still being counted), claimed she was “leading the fight” to “force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions,” which of course they’re already forced to do by the ACA.
Fortunately, keeping this promise requires Republicans to do nothing more than stand down and let the ACA be. Which (in Congress, anyway) is exactly what they’re doing:
The day after crushing midterm election losses handed Democrats control of the House, GOP leaders signaled they had no appetite to make another go at shredding the signature accomplishment of Obama’s presidency anytime soon.
“I think it’s pretty obvious, the Democratic House is not going to be interested in that,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who suggested instead that lawmakers address the flaws in the Affordable Care Act “on a bipartisan basis.”
Beyond the practical barriers, Republicans also offered a political imperative for abandoning the nearly decade-old fight: the defeats they suffered to Democrats who ran hard against their efforts to roll back the law.
So congratulations, Republicans, on keeping your promise to protect people with preexisting conditions by no longer trying to take away protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Unfortunately, there’s the small matter of the lawsuit filed by Republicans in 19 states and supported by the Trump administration, which would nullify the entire ACA, not to mention the administration’s promotion of junk insurance plans that don’t cover preexisting conditions. If that lawsuit succeeds, the whole game will be up. Which is why I suspect that they’re secretly hoping it fails. After spending all that time claiming they wanted to protect people, the last thing they want is for the public to be reminded, in a catastrophic way, of what they’ve been trying to do for so long.
What about the other promise, to protect us from the terrifying invasion of asylum seekers from the south? I have some good news there too: You and your family will not be killed by the caravan. Thanks, Republicans!
Of course, the reason is that the caravan was never a threat in the first place. It wasn’t full of gang members and terrorists, and as previous caravans had, its numbers will diminish on the hundreds of miles its participants still have to walk as some people turn back or decide to stay in Mexico. When those who remain reach the border, they’ll present themselves to American officials and request asylum. Those requests will be evaluated in a process our government conducts every day; some claims will be successful, and others won’t.
What we do know is that now that the election is over, Republicans will stop talking about it. What two days ago was a terrifying threat to the life of every Fox News viewer will be quickly forgotten. As for President Trump’s campaign gimmick of sending 5,200 troops to the border to protect against the onrushing horde, the Pentagon has already dropped the self-parodying name for the mission (it was called “Operation Faithful Patriot,” because I guess “Operation Trumpmerica Star Spangled Eagleflag” would have been a bit much). Don’t be surprised if in the coming weeks, the troops are quietly sent back to their regular duties.
In other words, everything Republicans promised and talked about during the campaign will simply disappear into thin air. They won’t bother talking about safeguarding protections for preexisting conditions any more, having given up on their effort to do just the opposite. They won’t bother talking about protecting us from the migrant menace, because it was always largely hyped. Republicans can just lay low and hope people forget about all of it. Whatever else you might say about them, you have to admit they’re clever.