The Mayberry Machiavellis Lost a Battle on Friday. But the War Is Not Over.


Here is the last paragraph of David Brooks’ blow-by-blow evisceration of every single thing related to the Republican health care debacle:

The core Republican problem is this: The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided. So the Republicans have the politics driving the substance, not the other way around. The new elite is worse than the old elite — and certainly more vapid.

Remember the Mayberry Machiavellis? In the Bush White House they were “staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption.” This is now the entire Republican Party leadership. Keep in mind that they never wanted to propose an Obamacare replacement in the first place. They figured they could just promise one for later. So deliciously Machiavellian! But it turned out that even the rubes who usually take their cues from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity saw through their repeal-and-delay ploy. So they had to come up with a plan. Any plan.

And they did. Within a few days they whipped up a health care bill. No one cared very much what was in it. Sean Spicer’s initial selling point—seriously—was the fact that it was much shorter than Obamacare. A few days later the CBO gave it possibly the most devastating score of any bill in history: 24 million people would lose coverage. But that was just substance, not important stuff like politics, so Republicans shrugged. When Tucker Carlson told Donald Trump about the millions who would be kicked off their plans, Trump muttered “I know” and swiftly moved on.

Then the horsetrading began. Not over details here and there, but over the very foundations of the bill. Old people would see their premiums treble or quadruple, which nobody considered a problem until AARP pointed out that old people vote. So Paul Ryan tossed in $75 billion and told the Senate to figure out what to do with the money. Cutting nearly a trillion dollars in Medicaid funding wasn’t enough for some? Fine, let states add work requirements. The ultras don’t like essential health benefits? Out they go.

By the time they were finished, a Rube Goldberg bill that was as brutal as anything we’ve ever seen had almost literally become tatters. Nobody cared what was in it. Nobody cared if it would work. Nobody cared if it would actually cover anyone.

And even at that, something like 90 percent of the Republican House caucus was apparently willing to shrug and vote for it. Promise made, promise kept. Who cares what’s in it?

The silver lining here is that apparently there really is a limit to the power of Mayberry Machiavellianism. Merely repeating that the bill was “great” over and over wasn’t enough. The hustle was just too raw. Even the white working class, the famous demographic that delivered the White House to Donald Trump, disapproved of the bill 48-22 percent.

So now we move on to tax cuts for the rich. Will the hustle work this time? Or has health care finally made even the Fox News crowd skeptical that Republicans have the best interests of the working class at heart?