Congressional Republicans are pretending that the ongoing meltdown of the Trump White House is somebody else's problem, and I can certainly see the attraction of that strategy.
"I'm going to leave it to the president to talk about and defend his tweets," as House Speaker Paul Ryan puts it, adding that he's going to focus instead on issues such as health care and tax reform."Those are the things that I got elected to do," says Ryan. "Those are the things that are within our purview in Congress. So I'm working on making sure that we make good on our promises and fix people's problems. That's what's in my control, and that's what I'm focused on."
Unfortunately for Ryan, there's a fundamental flaw in that strategy: The agenda that Ryan and his colleagues believe they were elected to enact is itself deeply unpopular, more unpopular in fact than the president whom they attempt to keep at arm's length.
The most obvious example is the health-care plan that the House passed last month. Poll after poll show that the American public despises it. In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, just 21 percent of voters said they support the GOP plan. When asked whether states should be given authority to raise insurance rates for Americans with pre-existing conditions -- a key provision in the House bill -- just 21 percent said yes.
Ryan and his colleagues are also pushing hard on tax reform plans that will lower corporate taxes and give huge tax breaks for the wealthy. He believes that Congress will be able to pass such a plan by the end of the year, and that by doing so they will insulate themselves from any election-day blowback produced by the Trump administration.
That notion is totally divorced from reality.
Let's grant, for argument's sake, that Republicans can indeed agree upon and pass such a plan. I'll be surprised if that's true, but let's pretend. The problem is that poll numbers consistently show overwhelming public opposition to such tax cuts, and when those raise the deficit, opposition soars even higher. In the Quinnipiac poll, just 18 percent of American voters say they support cutting taxes on the wealthy. Even among Republicans, just 34 percent back that approach.
(Gallup shows similar numbers, with 63 percent saying the rich pay too little in taxes, and 24 percent saying they pay too much.)
Overall, just 29 percent of voters in the Quinnipiac poll say the tax plan proposed by President Trump and Republicans will help the country, compared to 49 percent who say it will damage the country. And I won't even go into the political impact of trying to privatize Medicare, a proposal that Ryan publicly embraced as recently as a week ago.
In a sense, then, congressional Republicans should almost be grateful for the spectacle that is the Trump White House, because for the moment at least it is distracting public attention from their own political craziness.
I say "almost grateful" because, well, there's this: