The Republican Party’s inability to advance the American Health Care Act even to the floor of the House of Representatives has crystallized the choice Washington leaders face: revert to a brand of politics in which bipartisan compromise is not only possible but expected – or get nothing significant accomplished. It’s a consequential choice, with roads and bridges in need of repair; an emerging economy making it more difficult for low-skilled workers to get good jobs; and our health care system, though improved under the Affordable Care Act, still leaving too many Americans without the coverage they need.
Times like these call for a consensus-builder in the White House who understands the stakes and is willing to use the power of the presidential bully pulpit to rally the public and legislators to unify around common goals, even if it means slaying ideologically sacrosanct principles that divide us. Instead, President Donald Trump has used his perch in the Oval Office to demean, spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories and brag about his victory in November. Those who know him best say he is a crafty non-ideological tactician. If ever there were a moment for the president to prove them right, this is it.
Let’s be clear. We’ve seen no evidence that Trump is interested in anything other than self-aggrandizement or has the humility needed to transform what is fast becoming a failed presidency. This isn’t a call for him to finally pivot in the way hopeful pundits have been begging since early in his presidential campaign. It’s a recognition that reality, in the form of a high-profile legislative defeat, has asserted itself in the Trump era like no other singular event. That provides an enormous opening for a man who sold himself as independent. The failure of Trumpcare gives the president all the cover he needs to reject the obstinance of hard-liners in Washington.
Though Democrats have little incentive to work with a president whose approval rating hovers in the mid- to high-30s and hasn’t shown the ability to corral the diverse coalitions within his own party, they must remain open to the idea of doing so. There is bipartisan agreement that third-world airports in world-class American cities and roads that force us to spend extra money on car maintenance are dismaying. If President Trump can focus on infrastructure spending that solves those problems without becoming a giveaway to wealthy developers, or on tax reform that simplifies the code without handing a windfall to the rich – as he’s promised – Democrats should welcome that change.
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We know that’s a big if and a big ask, given that the president hasn’t shown himself to be a worthy partner on just about anything. But even if Trump is unwilling to place country above party and short-term political gain, that doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow his lead.