The battle lines in the Republican Party got a little clearer on Thursday when President Trump sent a harsh message to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, promising to have his revenge on them for blocking the Obamacare replacement bill. In an early morning tweet, the president said he would “fight them” in the 2018 midterms.
The Freedom Caucus, Trump wrote, was going to “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast.” He said the thirty-some-odd members of the House Caucus were in the same boat as Democrats, all of them opposing his agenda and thwarting the will of the voters.
While House Speaker Paul Ryan has been cautiously neutral when it comes to the Freedom Caucus, he told reporters that he could sympathize with how the president was feeling.
“I understand the president’s frustration,” said Ryan. “It’s very understandable that the president is frustrated we’re not going where he wants to go.”
Members of the Caucus who spoke to reporters on Thursday were careful to avoid throwing bombs back at the president, but they did not express any regret about standing their ground against a bad healthcare bill.
“The president can say what he wants and that’s fine. But we’re focused on the legislation,” said Rep. Jim Jordan. On the potential for Congress to agree on a replacement bill, Jordan said, “Look, I’m an American. I’m always optimistic. The glass is half full, right?”
It’s not hard to see it from Trump’s point of view. For one thing, the House Freedom Caucus is a minority in Congress, so it makes political sense to make them the bad guys. Two, they are – in one sense, anyway – the ones who stood in front of a bill he wanted to pass. Three, he seems to have embraced Ryan as a friend, so he can’t step back and properly analyze whether or not the Speaker has his best interests at heart.
Hard-right conservatives themselves splintered during the election. The Ted Cruz supporters wanted nothing to do with Trump until he was the only alternative to Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, others felt that Trump – even if he was clearly not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative – would actually be able to…well…win the damn election!
The reality, though, is that very few of Trump’s supporters wanted to see him get to the White House and then govern to the left of the average establishment Republican. He can’t unseat conservatives in safe conservative districts by running moderate/liberal Republicans against them, and he risks losing national conservative support if he sides against the most principled members of Congress.
We doubt very seriously that Democrats are ready to embrace the Trump agenda, even if its most liberal form. And if he has to mold the agenda to such a point that they WILL get on board…then what was the point of any of this?
Trump’s the kind of guy who wants to win at all costs. We love that.
But some costs are simply too high.