mitch mcconnell
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

These days it can seem as though political gravity has ceased to exist and we live in Bizarroland. Depending on your assumptions about politics and the electorate, that may forever be true. David Brooks Republicans always assumed that they had a large base of sensible, serious voters committed to constitutional conservative principles rather than a horde of prejudiced, theocratic cranks. Not true. Many centrist Democrats assumed much the same: that a cadre of sensible and serious suburban professionals would prize decency and patriotism over tax cuts and latent bigotry. Also untrue. Economic professionals figured that the aggregate prosperity brought by automation and globalization would be adequate to maintain political stability without a revolt from the disrupted, even if most of that new prosperity was funneled to the top of the economic ladder. Nope.

The world actually makes a lot of sense if you don’t start with bad assumptions. Begin with different assumptions, and the impossible begins to seem downright likely.

Which brings us to healthcare. The setup is actually fairly simple: would the Republican desire to pass massive tax cuts for its donor class overwhelm its fear of being punished at the ballot box for taking healthcare away from millions of Americans, including their own voters? Under normal circumstances fear of electoral consequences would prevail. But we live in an age of unprecedented partisanship and big money influence, which leads many Republicans to feel insulated from the consequences of even openly cruel actions that damage their loyal constituents. That Republicans would actually destroy Obamacare went from remote possibility to very real.

Even after the ACA repeal seemed doomed in the House, political pressure from the donor class and the hyperconservative think tanks for their precious tax cuts increased, and the bill came back from the edge of the grave to pass the house and get a fanfare at the Rose Garden.

But we’re not fully on the other side of the looking glass yet. There are still just enough Republican Senators who are susceptible to fear of ballot box recrimination, combined with enough raw ideological die hards who won’t settle for less than a libertarian’s dystopia in the healthcare psuedo-market, that Obamacare repeal is now in deep trouble in the Senate.

But just as with the House version of the same, it’s important not to underestimate the pressure of tax cut fervor and partisan zeal. Organized resistance by the left has made a huge difference in pushing the bill to the edge of defeat. But it’s not over until it’s over.

The normal political rules many Americans expect don’t apply anymore. It’s a different world than most people thought they lived in. Mobilization is key. Expect the worst, hope for the best, and never underestimate the fervent cruelty of the opposition.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.