Rightblogger reactions to Trump’s Obamacare sabotage last week remind us that despite the distance some of them try to keep between themselves and the president, when it counts he and they are basically on the same side.
You may have been hearing lately about reasonable conservatives who are just as mad about this Trump fellow as you are and therefore should be embraced by comrades, possibly even as “woke.” When the president went full Mussolini on the press and threatened NBC’s broadcast license last week, for example, some conservatives (who were also members of the press) bravely opposed him. “Conservative Media Is Actually Against Trump’s Press Comments,” said Hot Air. “The immense freedom that this country grants to its press is not ‘disgusting’; it’s beautiful,” cried Katherine Timpf at National Review.
Some weak-minded liberals have been taken in by this shtick. Last week, Salon ran a list of “the 25 conservatives actually worth following on Twitter.” The primary credential shared by these worthies: They sometimes talk smack about Trump. (Example: “Like Bill Kristol, most liberals still want David Frum to disappear in a cloud of smoke. Nevertheless, the neoconservative political commentator and senior editor at the Atlantic has become somewhat of a professional roaster of Trump on Twitter.”)
But while rightbloggers sometimes tsk-tsk the president’s nutty stunts, when it comes to actual policy, they’ve got commutation tickets on the Trump Train. Recall last spring’s Muslim ban. How many of them came out against that? And can you think of a single conservative who thought Trump was such a disgrace to this office that his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, should be rejected?
Au contraire. “President Trump should be congratulated for fulfilling his most important campaign promise,” gushed leading National Review anti-Trump writer Jonah Goldberg when Gorsuch was put up. When Democrats came out in opposition, Bloomberg’s non-Trumpkin Megan McArdle said Democrats were just “discovering the sweet, toddler-like joys of just saying ‘no’ to everything” and predicted they’d be spanked by the electorate for their “increasingly counterproductive obstructionism.”
With enemies like that, who needs friends?
Though Americans have told pollsters they want Obamacare fixed rather than fucked up, last week Trump issued two Obamacare-related executive orders — one allowing health plans that don’t cover essential health benefits into the marketplace, the other stripping insurers of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments — clearly intended to cripple the program and wreck plans that brought coverage to millions.
Actual healthcare experts facepalmed, Trump administration éminence grease Steve Bannon cheerfully announced the president had done it to drive up premiums and cause pain (which, along with Seagram’s 7 and Crisco, is one of Bannon’s key sources of nourishment), and attorneys general sued.
But aside from the occasional old-school wing nut who criticized the EOs on procedural grounds, the reasonable conservatives you’ve been hearing about neither spoke against them, nor admitted that maybe Trump’s egoistic impatience rather than sound policy was behind the decision, nor showed any sympathy for the citizens who will be hurt by his obsessive need to wreck Obama’s legacy.
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t just repeal this garbage cleanly, but if this is what the GOP wants, then so be it. War,” grunted Ace of Spades. The “disruption” to the ACA “will remind both parties of their interests in finding a way out of the death spiral of ObamaCare,” cheered Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. “Under Trump we’re seeing a return to constitutional government,” swooned F.H. Buckley at the New York Post.
To defend the “health association” bit that is expected to divide and wreck the national insurance pool with crap plans, Breitbart gave space to Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who thinks national healthcare is “slavery” and voted against the congressional repeal-and-replace plans because they weren’t draconian enough. “The cost [of the orders] to the taxpayer? ZERO!” yelled Paul. “As opposed to the trillion-dollar, ‘fake’ replacements we voted on, this replacement simply legalizes choice.”
As to the pointy-heads who predict disaster, Paul scoffed: “The regulators, and hand-wringers, will worry that Health Associations will lead to the least common denominator and simply high-deductible, bare-bones policy. The opposite might occur.” Sure it might — hell, we all might find a pot of gold under our no-frills plans, too. That’s the essence of American exceptionalism — or, as some call it, hoping against hope.
At Reason, Peter Suderman admitted he could see a result where “premiums continue to rise and choices continue to decline.” But that wouldn’t be Trump’s fault — that’d be Obama’s for his tricksy ACA design, “in which the only solution to the law’s failings is to bail it out.”
Trump’s order, Suderman explained, “is not an attempt to unwind the law so much as to work around it.” Yet despite the meticulous delicacy of his work-around, “Trump’s order won’t ease [Obamacare’s] instability, and may well exacerbate it.” But how could Trump have foreseen that? OK, he bragged all the time about letting Obamacare “explode,” but you know him, he says a lot of things. No, it’s Obama’s fault, because “Obamacare is built to allow no alternative and no escape” — if you so much as breathe on it, or flood the market with cheap, low-care plans, it falls apart.
In case you wondered, Suderman was not completely insensitive to the human fallout of this plan — he expressed sympathy for “the bind in which policymakers who wish to address frustrations with Obamacare now find themselves.”
The Cost-Sharing Reduction payments, the other Affordable Care Act provision targeted last week by Trump, were helping keep premiums low, which is why Republicans as part of their scorched-earth efforts against Obamacare sued to have them declared unconstitutional; in 2016 an appeals court judge sided with the GOP but delayed stopping the payments pending further appeals from the White House (har har) or congressional action (double har har). Trump had actually been keeping the payments up until his mood swing last week.
Lawyer-rightbloggers like Scott Johnson at Power Line defended the cataclysm on that basis — it may throw millions off their health plans, but it sure is legal. Johnson insisted it wasn’t Trump but Obama who was doing “sabotage” — to the rule of law! “During his two terms in office President Obama conducted an assault on the Constitution and on limited government in the name of the higher good as he saw it,” Johnson said; Trump was just letting the national healthcare program collapse constitutionally, as the Founders intended. But, Johnson sighed, “when it comes to President Trump, hysteria is the only note the Democrats can strike.” Certainly they won’t fool Joe Oxycontin née Sixpack, who will understand and approve that freedom’s just another word for losing your Obamacare opioid addiction treatment.
“Trump Faithfully Executes Obamacare; Media, Democrats Go Nuts,” chortled Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review; the Federalist’s David Harsanyi referred to “so-called ‘cost sharing reduction’ payments” — they only look like they’re reducing cost sharing, but what they’re really reducing is liberty! Harsanyi lamented only that, since Trump had kept the payments up awhile, “now the move looks like an act of negotiation leverage (which he probably thinks it is).” Ha ha, that Trump — he doesn’t even know what a constitutional hero he is!
So how would these conservatives help the millions screwed by this decision? Hell, why should they care? At the Daily Signal, Edmund Haislmaier said look on the bright side — while about 5.8 million beneficiaries would be affected by his own generous analysis, “insurers couldn’t increase enrollees’ premiums immediately,” so they’d all have time to make out their wills. Also, disruptions could be avoided if Congress agreed to the “removal of Obamacare’s cost-increasing insurance mandates and misguided regulations,” and we’ve all seen how good they are at that.
Meanwhile, Trump also decertified Obama’s Iran deal, and I’m not hearing reasonable conservatives knock that one, either — though the smarter ones are for the moment playing it cagey by minimizing Trump’s move, with the Washington Times saying the plan “gives Congress 60 days to get tough on Iran,” the Daily Caller shrugging that it “Probably Won’t Impact US Dealings With North Korea,” etc. There’ll be plenty of time for cheering when Trump declares war on whichever Middle Eastern country he can pronounce, and all the “conservatives actually worth following on Twitter” are demanding to know why you aren’t wearing your flag pin.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2017