It’s fascinating to see how Republicans talk to each other about health care. Over at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg tip-toes towards political reality, but always by jingling enough right-wing lunacy around to try to scare off the bears.
Here’s how he tries to inoculate himself against what he knows will be a fiery pushback from his conservative audience:
I’m just thinking out loud here. But it seems to me this is one of those moments in American politics where no one can simply say what they really think or want.
So, whatever the distinctions between rhetoric and reality might be on the right, it’s really no different from what the Democrats are doing, too. And what are the Democrats doing?
Meanwhile, the Democrats know that Obamacare has been a huge albatross for their party and understand that the best thing that could happen for them is if the Republicans agreed to keep Obamacare in name (i.e., abandon the rhetoric of “repeal”) but do whatever is necessary to make the thing work. But the GOP is doing the opposite. It’s largely keeping Obamacare in terms of policy (at least the really popular parts) but rhetorically its claiming to destroy Obamacare utterly. So, both the Democrats and the Republicans end up claiming this is a repeal of Obamacare when it’s not. It’s all a war for the best spin, not the best policy.
Of course, this isn’t even half true. While the Democrats would welcome a constructive effort to shore up the Affordable Care Act, they are actually protesting a bill that would undo all the gains in coverage that Obamacare created. And I mean that quite literally.
But Goldberg is really aiming to make a different point.
In different times, a Republican president might have come in and, like Eisenhower did with the New Deal, say, “We’re not going to throw away all that stuff, but we are going to fix it and shave the rough edges off.” A mend-it-don’t-end-it rhetorical approach to Obamacare would win over enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a serious (albeit way-too-statist for me) health-care bill that gave Obama credit while reworking the whole thing.
Of course, that’s precisely what I’ve been saying from the get-go. Goldberg is saying the same thing because it’s obviously true and would make much more sense for a president who campaigned, as Goldberg notes, “vowing not to touch Medicaid.”
But Goldberg knows that he’s putting all his conservative credentials at risk by suggesting that Trump should have worked with the Democrats on health care, so he has to finish up by basically disavowing his entire point:
I’m not saying that alternative universe would be better. For instance, I wish Eisenhower had been more hostile to the New Deal. But I do think it’s an interesting example of how rhetoric and the logic of tribalism is driving the debate far more than policy is.
I think it’s pretty lazy to write something as vague as “I wish Eisenhower had been more hostile to the New Deal” while basically praising him for doing something sensible that could work both in practice and as a political matter. But I don’t expect anything more than this from a guy like Johah Goldberg.
As for the Republicans’ refusal to say what they mean and mean what they say, Goldberg is fairly honest:
As Yuval [Levin] noted yesterday, big chunks of the GOP-controlled Congress just don’t want to deal with health care or repeal Obamacare. As both the House and Senate legislation demonstrate, they’d rather tinker with it than tear it down. But they can’t say that.
And he has a lot of Trump supporters pegged, too.
So, in policy terms, the voters who believed Trump when he said he wouldn’t touch Medicaid are getting screwed, but it seems many of them — or their anointed representatives in right-wing media — don’t care, because they too want Trump to have a big political win more than a much more difficult policy win (and for the Democrats to have a big political loss).
It must be exhausting to try to tell the truth to the conservative base. You have to make so many caveats and create so many false equivalences just to gather the courage to open your mouth, and when you’re done you feel the need to disavow the implications of everything you’ve just said.