Memo to the president: The swamp is not your friend

Special to

Jeffrey T. Kuhner

The failure of Ryancare is a watershed in Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump is now at a crossroads: Continue down the dead-end road with the establishment GOP or ditch House Speaker Paul Ryan. If early signs are an indication, the president has learned the wrong lessons from Ryan’s decision on Friday to pull off the floor the Republican bill to reform Obamacare.

The media’s narrative has been clear: Blame the Freedom Caucus. The collapse of Ryancare is being laid at the feet of principled House conservatives, who steadfastly opposed the bill.

Trump himself echoed that line in a weekend tweet: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare.”

In fact, the opposite is true. The Freedom Caucus likely saved not only the GOP, but Trump’s presidency as well. The dirty secret is that Ryancare only had 17 percent approval from the American public. It was toxic and widely unpopular. If the House had somehow passed it, Ryancare would have died in the Senate. And if by some miracle it actually managed to get to Trump’s desk and he signed it, then the president and the Republicans — not President Obama and the Democrats — would be blamed for the healthcare monstrosity.

Ryancare would have been an albatross around Trump’s neck. Its deep unpopularity almost guaranteeing a one-term presidency.

This is why the bill was also opposed by numerous GOP moderates. What the media — and the White House — are deliberately ignoring is that more Republican centrists than conservatives refused to support Ryancare.

By Friday afternoon when it was clear the bill lacked the necessary votes, there was a rush of Republicans who were going to flip from “yes” to “no.” The reason Ryan pulled his bill is that nearly 100 Republicans — the majority of them moderates — were planning to vote against Obamacare Lite. They were not willing to walk the plank, especially on a bill that was going down to crushing defeat. And who can blame them? Ryancare was so publicly unpopular it was political suicide for sane Republicans to back it.

The real responsibility for the Ryancare humiliation falls on two people: Ryan and by extension, Trump.

It was Ryan who crafted the bill in secret and then rammed it though committees, pushing for a vote despite its lack of majority support.

Steve Bannon, White House chief adviser, admitted that Ryancare was essentially “written by the health insurance industry.” He is right. The bill was primarily crafted by lobbyists to benefit the special interests — not the American people. It was a massive boondoggle to big Pharma, big insurance interests and the Chamber of Commerce. In short, Ryan did the bidding of his donors. It was a bill of, by and for the establishment. It deserved to die.

Trump must also be blamed. Ryan is a globalist-corporatist, who seeks to undermine the president’s nationalist-populist agenda. Trump was naïve at best and irresponsible at worst to trust Ryan on such an important issue. The president deferred to Ryan, believing he had the confidence of House Republican members and an unrivalled policy expertise on healthcare. That was a lie — and Trump bought it.

Yet, instead of demanding that Ryan resign his speakership, Trump continues to publicly back him. In fact, the White House in its anger against the Freedom Caucus, now says it wants to reach out to “moderate Democrats” and forge bipartisan alliances on key issues, such as tax reform, spending and infrastructure.

For Trump, the lesson seems to be not to ditch the Republican leadership, but to embrace them. Ryan is in; the conservatives are out.

This is a recipe for disaster — and defeat. The Democrats seek Trump’s impeachment. They want to destroy him.

Any idea of a partnership with Democrats is a fool’s errand. It would abandon his base, demoralize his supporters and empower his mortal enemies. It is the road to political ruin.

Rather, Trump needs to reverse course. Ryan has proven — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that he is an incompetent, ineffective and corrupt leader. He must step down immediately.

Moreover, Trump needs to start courting conservatives, not RINOs and Democrats. He should push to rip out Obamacare, root and branch — a complete repeal, as the Republicans repeatedly promised (and voted) for over seven years.

He should then demand that a free market-based replacement bill, along the lines proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, be passed.

This reform would expand personal health savings accounts, allow health insurance to be sold across state lines, and enact meaningful tort reform so doctors and healthcare providers are not constantly practicing defensive medicine. This would dramatically lower healthcare premiums and costs, substantially increase competition and provide more patient and consumer choice.

It would kill two birds with one stone: enable millions of Americans to have access to affordable, quality healthcare while simultaneously driving down runaway deficits.

This, however, requires leadership, and not punting to Ryan and the GOP elite. The reason the American people elected Trump — why they were willing to forgive his flaws and gaffes — was that they wanted a businessman, a “man of action” who could deliver on his America First agenda.

Ryancare was a major setback. More importantly, by allying with Ryan, Trump is not draining the swamp. He’s swimming in it. And eventually, it will swallow him.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at and the host of “The Kuhner Report” weekdays 12-3 pm EST on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.

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