The lesson of AHCA? Businessmen make bad presidents
When Donald Trump ran for president, he ran as a master of “The Art of the Deal,” an expert negotiator, and a practitioner of dealmaking as a craft. His street-smart knack at negotiating was supposed to be hard-headed, real-world experience, superior to the political experience of his aloof, effete, book-smart, Washington-insider contenders.
But now that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan failed to secure the votes needed to pass the American Health Care Act, many of his critics feel vindicated. Trump has been caught in a lie. Now no one can doubt that the public image he crafted during his campaign was a complete fabrication. Donald Trump is not a good at making deals. He’s not a “closer.” The failure to deliver on his high-profile campaign promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare is definitive proof that Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump the expert dealmaker is a myth.
But there’s yet another myth that the collapse of repeal and replace has put to bed: the long-standing myth that businessmen make good presidents.
For many years, conservative pundits have pushed the idea that government should be run like a business, and that businessmen should run government. When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, his business acumen was said to be his chief selling point. And Trump supporters argued that his success and his wealth were indicators of his potential to be a great president.
But there’s little evidence that a career in business prepares someone to be president. In fact, the historical record actually shows that business experience correlates to weaker — not better — presidential performance.
Trump’s failure to clinch the AHCA proves that success in business doesn’t prepare a person for the presidency. There’s at least one very obvious reason why: the legislative process has a learning curve. A governor who has worked with a state legislature, or a senator or congressman who has worked in Congress himself or herself, has acquired an understanding of how legislating works. Someone who has spent a career in business hasn’t.
Of course, Trump himself hasn’t acquired such an understanding. During his presidential campaign, his lack of experience was not a problem — perhaps it was even an asset. His argument was that he had other strengths that would make him an even more effective leader than career politicians.
His pitch to the American people was that legislating is just another form of “dealmaking:” dealmaking is a “transferable skill,” just as applicable to real estate development as to governance.
But it turns out that the generic ability to make deals isn’t enough. The specifics of the legislative process actually matter. And now that the American Health Care Act has stalled, Trump appears to be flip-flopping on his message. He’s backing away from the idea that his career has prepared him to be president.
In a press conference in the Oval Office after the vote for the bill was cancelled, the president tried to find a silver-lining to the whole process. He portrayed it as a learning experience: “We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House.”
This should be a disappointment to Trump supporters. This confession of inexperience is coming from the candidate who once claimed, “nobody knows the system better than [him],” and that, “only [he] can fix it.”
In the wake of the failed healthcare bill, rifts have already begun to divide the Republican party, as factions within the party shift the blame on each other. As those debates progress, Trump (or his supporters) may use his political inexperience as his defense for why he’s not personally responsible for the failure to pass the Obamacare replacement. There’s already some indication that it may be happening.
In his press conference in the Oval Office after the bill was pulled, Trump faulted the Democrats for the collapse of the bill. He was careful not to criticize Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, or any other Republicans. However, a strange tweet posted yesterday suggests he wants his supporters to pin the blame on Paul Ryan.
Yesterday morning, the president mysteriously tweeted and told his followers to watch Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News, Justice with Judge Jeanine, at 9PM. Those who tuned in saw an extended argument blaming Ryan for failing to pass the bill, urging him to “step down as Speaker of the House.”
Pirro also defended Donald Trump. She cited Trump’s inexperience with legislating as a reason why he wasn’t at fault: “No one expected a business man to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins-and-outs of Washington and its legislative process.”
Pirro’s line of argument was that Trump was excused from responsibility for the collapse of the AHCA, because it was clearly Paul Ryan’s job to secure the vote, and Paul Ryan’s alone. Ryan is a member of the political establishment, her argument went, so he should already have the requisite connections, experience and skill to get the vote. Trump doesn’t have the means to build consensus and lead the party, but Ryan does, so of course it was Paul Ryan’s task, and not Trump’s.
It’s unclear to what extent Pirro served as a mouthpiece for the president. Pirro herself denied that she communicated with anyone from the White House before her program. But Trump’s tweet suggests he knew what Pirro would say on her show. Pirro could be lying. But who knows? It’s not important: time will tell whether Trump’s team adopts her defense to protect the president and to attack Paul Ryan.
But even if the White House doesn’t take up the defense in this new round of intramural debates in the Republican party, it’s still worth noting that it’s obviously a weak defense.
If it’s not Trump’s job to build consensus amongst Republicans, then what does he contribute to the collaborative task of governance? He has already made very clear that he’s uninterested in the minute details of policy.
Flip-flopping on his preparedness to be president may seem unimportant: it may seem like just another lie from a man who lies often and unashamedly. Indeed, Trump lies so much that it gives him cover. Nobody could take his campaign promises seriously, because he promised everything and its opposite. It gave him a political advantage. He arrived at the White House with very few commitments.
But Donald Trump’s talent as a businessman was at the core of his anti-establishment message. If he’s now distancing himself from the myth that he is suited to be president because of his business experience, he may be especially vulnerable to attack from critics.