House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) hugs Vice President Pence in the White House Rose Garden after the House pushed through a health-care bill on May 4. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

Republicans’ inability and unwillingness to pass legislation that benefits working- and middle-class voters may send voters scurrying back to the Democratic Party. At least that’s what Democrats hope, and recent polling indicates they have reason for optimism.

According to a Harvard-Harris poll, “52 percent of voters trust Democrats to provide the best way forward on healthcare. Twenty-seven percent said they trust President Trump and only 21 percent said they trust Republicans in Congress, bringing the total GOP figure to 48 percent.” Republicans however have made voters realize the positive aspects of Obamacare. (“53 percent said they believe ObamaCare is working, rather than failing.” Congress as a whole remains unpopular, but 67 percent of the respondents give the GOP a negative rating while “only” 59 percent disapprove of Democrats.

The extended debate on health care, I would suggest, makes things even more dicey for Republicans. The substance of the bill (e.g., slash Medicaid) certainly has alarmed voters, but additionally, there are at least two possible consequences for Republicans.

First, Republicans continue to chew up the clock, making it that much more difficult to meet deadlines for the budget and debt ceiling. The window of opportunity for tax reform is also closing fast. In short, the Republicans may wind up being tagged as both incompetent and malevolent.

Second, whether or not Republicans pass a bill, we see, on one hand, a unified Democratic Party and, on the other, Republicans attacking Republicans. President Trump lashed out at Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of two Republicans who voted against the motion to proceed. Trump claimed Murkowski “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday.” Murkowski shot back: “Every day shouldn’t be about winning elections. How about just doing a little bit of governing around here. That’s what I’m here for.” Moderate Republicans will applaud her push back while bemoaning the cavalier attitude of right-wing Republicans who seem to have no concern for the substance of what they are trying to pass. Right-wing voices in the conservative echo chamber are already excoriating moderates for repelling efforts to slash Medicaid and deliver tax cuts for the rich. In other words, Trump and the health-care debacle are underscoring the divide in the GOP between the anti-government right-wingers and moderate reform-minded Republicans. Candidates in competitive seats will need both in the 2018 midterm elections.

Moreover, Trump’s effort to revive the culture wars has further divided the party and runs the risk of cementing the GOP’s image as the party of intolerant white men. The Post reports on the votes of two Virginia Republicans on a measure to stop the military from paying for gender transition surgery and hormone therapy. “Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) of Northern Virginia was among the 24 Republicans who joined all Democrats in voting against the amendment. . . . Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R), a freshman from Virginia Beach, voted for the amendment, despite a record of supporting LGBT causes through legislation.” Comstock may wind up being tarred by the sentiments of others in her party and losing the support of her more conservative constituents. Taylor meanwhile will be lambasted as a pawn of the far right. To be blunt, it’s a no-win issue for a party whose popularity is already under water.

In sum, the party that holds the White House almost always loses House seats in the first midterm. In the case of Trump Republicans, however, the endless fight over health care, the absence of other legislative achievements and the introduction of lose-lose social issues will make it that much more difficult for the GOP to keep its majority. In the RealClearPolitics average in generic congressional polling Democrats already have a nine-point lead. Republicans should worry that by Election Day 2018 the deficit will be in double digits.