House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks during a Rose Garden event at the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For years, reports of a mythical figure have lingered in Washington and reverberated through congressional districts around the country. Its legend is spread by talking heads, donors, even many of us in the news media.

This is the Myth of the Moderate Republican.

To be sure, among the general population, moderate Republicans are real and plentiful. But not on Capitol Hill, where the Moderate Republican — a creature whose prudence and clearheadedness will rescue the country from the uncompromising dogmatism of the House Freedom Caucus — is an extraordinary popular delusion, a madness of crowds.  

We’re told of these centrist leading lights of the Grand Old Party, people who listen to experts and weigh evidence, who are serious and sane and even sometimes inclined toward making PowerPoint presentations. They emphasize substance over sloganeering, country over party.

They are reasonable, rational, sensible. Or so we like to tell ourselves.

(Bastien Inzaurralde,Dalton Bennett,Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

But at the point that they vote to remake 18 percent of the economy without hearings, without expert testimony, without a public text of a bill even a day before their vote, without waiting for an estimate of either the budgetary or human cost of their handiwork — well, at that point, they lose any claim to “seriousness” or “moderation.” 

If there’s one thing to take away from Thursday’s health-care vote, it’s this: Next time you think these Moderate Republicans are going to save the United States from doing something catastrophically stupid, constructed from the whims of ideologue colleagues, disabuse yourself of the notion.

Immediately and forever.

On Thursday, the House voted on, and passed, the American Health Care Act. This is a bill that, despite President Trump’s pledge not to cut Medicaid, cuts Medicaid by more than $800 billion, a savings that will be used to offset hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the wealthy. In so doing, it cuts special ed, prenatal care for the impoverished, coverage for the disabled and substance-abuse treatments for the working class, among other worthy purposes that rich countries typically feel a moral imperative to fund.

It is a bill that incentivizes states to eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions.

It also allows states to kill requirements that insurance plans cover certain essential benefits, such as maternity care, prescriptions and emergency services. These are requirements that help consumers compare plans on an apples-to-apples basis and avoid shelling out thousands for “coverage” that covers almost nothing, mini-med plans that will never pay out.

This is a bill that guts caps on annual and lifetime out-of-pocket spending, not just for plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, but also for employer-sponsored plans, which would likely send more Americans with high medical bills into bankruptcy.

This is a plan that, by at least one estimate, would also effectively end enrollment in the ACA exchanges for families who make under $75,000 a year.

This is a plan that, according to the best projection we have (a dated one, because Republicans did not allow time for a new Congressional Budget Office score), would cause 24 million people to lose insurance.

This is a plan opposed by nearly every stakeholder imaginable, including doctors, hospitals, AARP, the March of Dimes and patient-advocacy groups.

But apparently none of this means anything to those alleged Moderate (or alternatively, “Mainstream”) Republicans who voted for it. They are so apparently desperate for a partisan win — and so committed to fulfilling their empty, seven-year-long pledge to “repeal Obamacare” — that they have ignored their constituents and experts of all stripes. They have ignored the pleas of cancer survivors, of parents of sick infants, of people desperately in need of mental-health care.

They have even ignored the usual expectation that they read the text of their own bill, to know what they’ve doomed their constituents to.

There’s a certain parallel with last weekend’s failed Fyre Festival, for which people paid thousands of dollars to attend a private-island music festival with luxury accommodations, only to find themselves in disaster-relief tents with cheese sandwiches and no water or sanitation. With both the island fiasco and Obamacare repeal, organizers were so taken in by their own promises that they neglected to pay attention to any of the critical details.

They were, in short, suckered by their own viral-marketing campaigns.  

“Let’s just do it and be legends, man,” a Fyre Festival marketer infamously declared shortly before completely foreseeable disaster struck; “Let’s get this f---ing thing done,” Rep. Martha McSally (Ariz.)  reportedly told her Republican colleagues hours before completely foreseeable disaster unfolded in the House. 

Good thing there are all those Moderate Republicans in the Senate to save us.