Paul Ryan
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

It’s time to imagine what might have seemed unthinkable just a few short months ago: what if Republicans fail to repeal Obamacare? The reason it seemed unthinkable is that as of November 8th, we knew that the GOP would control not only both houses of Congress – but the presidency too. They all made if very clear that their number one priority was to repeal Obamacare. What was there to stop them from doing so?

It’s obvious now that VP Pence and Speaker Ryan are hoping to rush through their bill before the pushback gains any more steam and basically dare their colleagues to oppose it. Some pundits are suggesting that – in the end – conservatives will have no choice but to vote for it. On the other hand, the one guy who knows the inner workings of the Republican caucus better than anyone and has nothing to lose, John Boehner, has predicted that they won’t be able to pull it off.  Who are you going to believe?

Conservative John Fund captured the problem perfectly in one tweet.

To the extent that those who are calling the Republican plan “Obamacare lite” are successful in making it less generous, moderate Republicans (especially those in the Senate who represent states that expanded Medicaid) will be further alienated. Ryan, Pence and Price have already gone farther than the right wing elements in the GOP will allow in protecting portions of Obamacare that the moderates want to see. So any changes will further alienate one group or the other. It’s pretty hard right now to envision a compromise that gets them the votes they need. House conservatives have even suggested that in order to pass, this bill will require Democratic support. Yeah, right. Like that is going to happen.

The question becomes: what happens if they fail? As the Republican battle over this one takes shape, right now Trump is siding with the folks his base has often called the “establishment” in supporting the repeal bill. Not only does that put him at odds with groups like the tea party’s Freedom Works and the Heritage Foundation. Breitbart is going all-in on trashing the bill – as are right wing media stars like Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter. This is probably part of the reason why Steve Bannon has been getting cold feet on repealing Obamacare. Any bill that can garner support from these folks is guaranteed to break every promise this administration has made about their “great” Obamacare replacement.

If Trump continues to support a bill that the folks I have often called the “lunatic caucus” in his party oppose so strongly, that could destroy the one thing that has kept his base in line. He would become part of the establishment that cow-tows to Democrats – which is inhabited by RINOs like Ryan and McConnell.

Because of this I expect that the president himself will be fairly quiet in his public statements about this bill, regardless of what Politico is reporting. Based on what conservatives said following a meeting with OMB Director Mulvaney last night, “the White House isn’t completely sold on the Republican House bill advancing through committees on Wednesday.” When/if it fails, he’ll re-join the lunatic caucus in blaming Republican leadership – which will be interesting to watch.

On a larger scale, failure to repeal Obamacare puts the entire Republican agenda at risk. Pointing the fingers of blame will empower the lunatic caucus to revolt against GOP leadership in much the same way they battled against and finally brought down former Speaker Boehner.

This is why the Democrats were right to go all-in on this fight for Obamacare – including assigning former Governor Steve Beshear to give the response to Trump’s speech, as Saahil recently pointed out. Nothing will do more damage to Republican control of Congress and the presidency than a momentum-stopping failure right out of the gate.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.