Trump’s populist rhetoric during his presidential campaign never culminated in a conservative vision for America. Although Trump dangled the carrot of tax cuts and deregulation to fiscal conservatives, he was rightly condemned by other Republicans for his retrograde protectionism and fundamentally illiberal proposal to ban an entire religion. For months an endless debate raged between two camps within the right of politics: one that had cherry-picked his conservative promises and believed it was “Morning in America”, and another that remained apprehensive about his core beliefs and values.
The now withdrawn American Health Care Act that was spearheaded by Trump came under immediate scrutiny from across the political spectrum and — most visibly — in the right of his party. The House Freedom Caucus were firm in their resistance of Trump’s frequent big-government rhetoric throughout the campaign and remained steadfast in opposing poor policy that Trump supported. Although the American Health Care Act improved healthcare policy by abolishing the individual and employer health insurance mandates, it continued to interfere with the market as insurers were forced to cover pre-existing conditions and included an irresponsible expansion of tax credits. Conservatives were justified in complaining about the lack of change to the pre-existing conditions mandate that distorts the proper role of insurance and the increase of tax credits, in what will ultimately become an entitlement program that worsens the budget deficit.
After Paul Ryan and most congressional Republicans have cowered from the negative response to the failed bill, the conservative stalwarts in Washington have been vindicated: the blame for this policy mess solely lies at President Trump’s feet for not expounding a free-market solution. It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to picture how consistent conservatives such as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul would have tackled healthcare reform, as Ted Cruz smothered the geriatric, socialistic Bernie Sanders just weeks ago on a CNN debate about healthcare policy. Viewers were left with little doubt as the Texas Senator described the superiority of a free market in healthcare that empowers individuals and strives for efficiency over more government interference.
This bungled attempt at legislation has further degraded Trump’s reputation with the conservatives in his party, and publicly demonstrated his inability to establish a coherent policy direction for the new administration. The conservatives that held out some hope for an administration that believed in small government now have to reckon with the likelihood that this represents, unfortunately, a taste of things to come.