Opinion writer
President Trump met with House Republicans to encourage members to vote in favor of the GOP plan to replace Obamacare. Trump called out Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and members of the House Freedom Caucus for not supporting the bill. (Alice Li,Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s breathtaking lack of interest in or grasp of policy made his appearance on Capitol Hill in favor of Trumpcare pathetically underwhelming. The Post reports:

Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” said the president, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured and that conservative holdouts would continue to press for a tougher bill.

“I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”

Even for Trump, his vapidity was striking. (“Trump did not get into much detail about what needed to be adjusted for the bill to win approval. He focused more on the political risks and rewards of passage, telling Republicans that they ‘kept passing and passing and passing’ repeal bills under President Obama and would be punished if they did not make good on their campaign promises.”) And, laughably, he let it be known it’s all about him and his thirst for approval. ( “‘We won’t have these crowds if we don’t get this done,’ he said, referring to his Monday night rally in Kentucky.”)

Trump must rely on empty threats and cliche-ridden cheerleading to sell his bill — which only increases worries among nervous lawmakers that he would be incapable of defending them on the merits should they vote in favor of a widely panned legislation.

Not only did a number of Freedom Caucus members indicate they were unmoved, but Heritage Action for America shortly after Trump’s Hill visit issued a statement: “Heritage Action will key vote against the AHCA barring changes that repeal Title I of Obamacare.” That means, absent a complete repeal of Obamacare, Heritage will use the vote in devising its score card to assess Republicans’ conservative bona fides. A GOP staffer who has often been on the other side of arguments says he could not recall a time when Heritage “lost” a vote after scoring it (i.e. the conservative group’s position did not prevail). Some might say this shows the group’s strength; others say it is very good at selecting votes so as to demonstrate its importance. That does not mean it will win on this one, only that it thinks it will.

No one should be surprised if Trump doesn’t move many votes. In a week in which his credibility was eviscerated by FBI Director James B. Comey, the American Health Care Act polling remains cruddy and no obvious constituency for the bill has emerged (other than Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who fear defeat). Trump’s inability to provide any real assurance to Republicans suggests the limits of his influence on legislation. One sees none of the party discipline that characterized the Democrats’ first two years of the Obama presidency.

We are not predicting the AHCA will go down to defeat. In fact, few if any insiders can safely predict what the vote total will be on Thursday. However, that there is any doubt about the outcome of the vote on GOP’s first and most visible legislative priority suggests Republicans have not figured out how to manage expectations or pitch their message.