One sentence explains it:
They didn’t think Trump could, or would, or should win, and so they dropped the health care and tax policy ball. Nor did the president’s mutability help things. It wasn’t clear whether Trump wanted full repeal of Obamacare with a replacement to come later, or repeal-and-replace with no gap, as he told 60 Minutes in November, or which taxes and regulations he wanted to keep, or how much he wanted to reform Medicaid. What matters to this president is the accomplishment, the signing ceremony, the trophy, the result. How he gets there, the details of legislation, are less important to him. That’s what he has Congress for.
A corollary to the widespread belief that Trump would lose was that criticizing him had no cost. Trump might have moved into first place in the national polling within a month of declaring his candidacy, he might have held that position throughout the entire primary with the brief exception of a few days in November 2015, but he was, to say the least, no ordinary frontrunner. Typically, party flacks shy away from offending frontrunners, lest they risk jobs in a possible administration. The party thus presents something like a united front, even if the primary is contested. Think of the Democrats in 2016.
But the Republicans last year were different. Trump was overthrowing both the party and conservative movement establishments, violating norms of discourse and behavior, altering the ideological composition of the GOP, and thriving amidst chaos, polarization, and conflict. Not only did he invite rebuke, he loved it, for it gave him the opportunity to separate himself from the Republican Party of the Bushes, Dole, McCain, and Romney. And since the operative assumption was that he would in no circumstances become president, GOP stalwarts zinged him with abandon, knowing they were not giving up the chance to be, say, assistant secretary for consular affairs.
Well, joke’s on us, because not only did Trump become president, he knows how to hold a grudge. The result is an understaffed administration. Cabinet agencies send the names of potential bureaucrats to the White House, and the names are rejected if they attacked or mocked the president on social media during the campaign. This is within Trump’s rights, of course. I wouldn’t hire someone who disliked me, either. (Let that be a warning to aspiring journalists.) My point is he would have a much larger talent pool to draw from had more people thought he was going to win.
Both the Republican and Democrat parties chose the form of their destructor.
[Update late morning]
The resistance that cried wolf:
CNN’s Jim Acosta is being hyperbolic when he says video of Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been “banned by the USA” and asks if it feels like America when the media is “openly” trashed or other, more conservative outlets get to ask questions instead of his.
It’s enough to make a person who would otherwise like to stand in journalistic solidarity with Acosta on these questions ask, “What about Spiro Agnew?” (Indeed, what about White House press secretaries under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush suggesting there be no live coverage of these briefings at all?)
The criticism some of us have of those who are obsessively anti-Trump isn’t that they are necessarily wrong about the president. I personally share many of their harsh assessments, especially of his fixation on petty feuds at a time of international peril, not to mention his overall temperament.
Yet they can also be almost naive in their evaluations of politicians and government pre-Trump, blind to how the governing class’ failures and character flaws made this presidency possible in the first place. Indeed, they often risk becoming the resistance that cried wolf.
Nothing Trump does wrong can be excused by pointing to the Clintons or others. We don’t want bad precedents to be set by the president or followed by future ones. What we should want is for all politicians to abide by the same set of rules — whether we like them or not.