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Opinion Trump’s constant chaos accomplishes nothing

Whatever elation Republicans experienced after an election that gave them majorities in both houses and won them the White House has morphed into anxiety, exhaustion and frustration. During the campaign, President Trump’s apologists and some in the mainstream media fostered the notion that Trump has cleverlyintentionally created one crisis after another to distract his opponents. We didn’t buy that then, and after two weeks in the White House, Trump should have disabused most onlookers of the notion that his chaos serves some strategic purpose. There is no purpose to be served by a public spat with Australia, a botched travel-ban rollout, a canceled trip by the Mexican president or a tragically flawed raid in Yemen.

These things do not further any policy aims. Moreover, they send House and Senate Republicans into a tailspin, upset multiple allies, launch a thousand leaks, prompt permanent civil service employees to set their hair on fire (and then rush to leak) and, in the case of the travel ban, raise a legal, diplomatic and political firestorm.

That’s not some sneaky way of distracting everyone else. In fact, that never-ending chaos distracts him from accomplishing important goals and satisfying his base. Major initiatives are grinding to a halt.

The Obamacare repeal effort is, as the New York Times reports, “flagging badly”:

The struggles and false starts have injected more uncertainty into insurance markets that thrive on stability. An aspirational deadline of Jan. 27 for repeal legislation has come and gone. The powerful retirees’ lobby AARP is mobilizing to defend key elements of the Affordable Care Act. Republican leaders who once saw a health law repeal as a quick first strike in the Trump era now must at least consider a worst case: unable to move forward with comprehensive health legislation, even as the uncertainty that they helped foster rattles consumers and insurers.
Insurers are threatening to exit the Affordable Care Act’s market unless the Trump administration and Congress can quickly clarify their intentions: Will they support the existing public marketplaces, encourage people to sign up and keep federal assistance flowing to insurers, or not?

Chaos impedes a major legislative undertaking. Add to the mix the complete lack of preparation by House Republicans who were supposed to have a plan ready to go if Republicans kept majorities in Congress and won the White House. We would put the chance of Obamacare’s repeal and replacement (with something truly new) at less than 50 percent. Keep in mind that a new plan will need the support of eight Democrats. Judging by their reaction to Trump’s rhetoric and unilateral executive orders, Democrats have become much less willing (if they ever were) to cooperate with the White House.

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The sure sign of the demise of “repeal and replace” comes from two critical GOP senators — Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — who now call for “repair” of Obamacare. That dramatic shift in objective may infuriate conservative reformers and activists, but few savvy observers think that Congress and this president are capable of the kind of sweeping change Trump ran on during the campaign. Gullible voters bought into Trump’s promise of getting something “terrific” without paying more; next time, they should reject snake-oil sales pitches and demand specifics.

Likewise on tax reform, the White House and House have not agreed on a “border tax” — or anything else. As on Obamacare, no bill exists yet. Hatch, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, let on that “while Republicans agree on the ‘fundamental issues and principles’ for tax reform, there are questions about ‘detail and design’ that have to be worked through.” Tax reform is all about the details. Once again, they are nowhere to be found. The longer this drags on, the more opponents of this or that change will organize and the less likely passage of a substantial reform becomes. Trump’s infamously short attention span — along with his constant self-induced distractions — makes progress that much harder. “Hill veteran and budget expert Bill Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center wouldn’t be surprised if lawmakers don’t get a bill to President Trump’s desk until 2018,” CNN reports. That may be a polite way of saying that tax reform isn’t happening soon — and maybe not at all.

The sole substantive action Trump successfully pulled off was his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If Trump keeps up his nonstop antics, that may be the only thing he gets done this year.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Hatch says that he did not specifically use the phrase “repair.” At a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week, he said that while he still wanted to repeal Obamacare in full, he is “open to anything.” The spokesperson says Hatch will still advocate for repeal. Unlike the White House, however, Hatch still suggests repeal with a full replacement to follow. (He acknowledged in his speech that “we can’t include a full Obamacare replacement in a budget reconciliation bill.”The divide on that issue alone (e.g. simultaneous “repeal and replace” or “repeal and delay”) highlights the difficulty of moving ahead on health-care reform. The artificial deadline of Jan. 27 for such a reconciliation measure has come and gone.