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Going Over the Top One More Time

ca. 1914-1918, France --- A company of Canadian soldiers go "over the top" from a World War I trench. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Let me see if I can summarize what amounts to the official explanation the GOP is giving for why they are pushing this health care bill. (I call it the official explanation because Chris Cillizza credits his analysis entirely to GOP members and staffers he talked to, so this is presumably the message they want to get out.) If I understand correctly, it boils down to this:

  1. We promised that we would do something about health care.
  2. This is something.

Comparisons to the Democratic vote on cap and trade are not at all reasonable. The Democratic leadership actually wanted to pass that bill; the party’s base actually supported it; and I would maintain that passing it in the House when they did was indeed the most likely path to getting it enacted into law. “Most-likely” turned out not to be nearly likely enough — and because of that, the vote wound up hurting the Democrats badly in 2010. That vote was only one of many reasons why the Democratic majority proved to be far less-durable than some thought at the time, a subject that will and should continue to be debated. But while Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy was in retrospect a bad one, it was a strategy aimed at a concrete and desired goal.

That is not at all true of the GOP’s health care bill. By their own repeated admission, the GOP leadership has no actual policy goal of any kind. They promised something. They have to deliver something — even if that something is wildly unpopular, satisfies nobody, and bears almost no relation to what they originally promised.

Ross Douthat has been having fun comparing the GOP leadership to Aguirre in the Werner Herzog film with respect to the leadership’s call to “burn the ships” to prevent defection. But his two most telling tweets are these:

With those tweets in mind, I have an ominous analogy to make.

The Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in brutal trench warfare for coming on a generation now. I have this sinking feeling that in a couple of years that war will be over, not because the Democrats finally win, but because the Republican side collapses into fratricide like the Russian army in 1917. [Whoops! Previously said 1918; my error]

In this analogy, Trump — continuing to pursue the ruinous politics of the discredited prior Republican regime — is bizarrely cast as the GOP’s Kerensky.

And I dread to contemplate what comes next.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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