The Party is Over for GOP Elites by Luke Perry
The Republican failure to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been scrutinized from various personal and policy perspectives. Two great examples include Ezra Klein of Vox interpreting what this means for the Trump presidency and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post explaining how the bill’s failure reflects Trump’s flawed conception of presidential leadership.
What is somewhat lacking from all this analysis is more explicit discussion of the institutional mechanisms at play here. Of course, politics is deeply personal, and stories need characters. At the same time, law matters, and perhaps more importantly, so does the lawmaking process.
The American political system was designed to ensure law making was difficult. The vast majority of bills fail. Americans get frustrated by this, but that’s the point.
The Framers didn’t want quick shifts in public opinion to result in equally quick shifts in public policy. Instead, they prioritized stability over expediency and ensured significant support for bills were required for passage.
What is so remarkable about this moment is that Republicans successfully won significant control of federal and state governments campaigning on this very issue. Their control of the House, Senate, and White House was sufficient to pass this bill or any other healthcare policy eligible for budget reconciliation. In other words, Republicans beat the system.
The bill’s failure was a failure of the Republican Party more than individual Republicans.
Julia Azari, Associate Professor of Political Science at Marquette University, observed months ago, “weak parties and strong partisanship are a bad combination.” Azari argued that party elites no longer control the electoral behavior of their members. The fate of the American Healthcare Act illuminated how party elites can’t control the legislative behavior of their members either.
One would think Paul Ryan could sufficiently whip House Republicans, given their fairly large margin for defection, and a president popular with the party. His predecessor John Boehner accurately predicted that would not be the case.
Looking ahead, unified GOP government will continue to exhibit the consequences of a party in power whose institutional leaders have no weight with which to lead until all factions are willing to be led.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College.