Should Trump Abandon the GOP?

Donald Trump may separate himself from a party disabled by a permanent blocking minority.

By Daniel Henninger

    During the Republican presidential debate in Greenville, S.C., Feb. 20. Photo: Getty Images

In 2016, Donald Trump stood on debate stages and ran against a half-dozen Republicans in the party’s presidential primaries. He won. With his presidential victory came Republican control of the House and Senate, in part because of his coattails.

After Senate Republicans this week failed to move a bill to repeal and replace Obama Care, Mr. Trump must be asking himself: Why do I need these people?

Just now, that’s a good question.

If the congressional Republicans can’t do ObamaCare reform after years of chanting they would, what chance is there they’ll pull off the heavier lift of tax reform?

Mr. Trump has to be wondering whether he would be better off with his version of the Obama presidential model: govern by pen-and-phone executive order through the agencies he controls.

Barack Obama rendered Congress moribund with little outcry from voters. The Obama error was his predictable left-wing overreach with extralegal decrees like the Clean Power Plan, which failed a court challenge before the D.C. Circuit.

To succeed as president, Mr. Trump has to show he can govern, and it looks like that may require separating himself from a Republican Party disabled by a permanent blocking minority with no interest in governing.

At the level of domestic politics, successful presidential governing means not much more than enabling and attaching oneself to an improving economy, as the impeached but popular Bill Clinton proved possible.

The economy is already strengthening, and Mr. Trump can direct Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economics chief Gary Cohn to accelerate their deregulation of financial and energy markets.

Before the Republicans lose seats and maybe control of the House in 2018, Mr. Trump can still extract a few things helpful to himself. Desperate incumbents, such as Nevada’s ObamaCare reform opponent Sen. Dean Heller, will be looking for a legislative life raft. Mr. Trump no doubt could get a modest tax-cut bill passed this year. That will support slow but steady upward growth unless he retards even that with a regime of steel tariffs and myriad trade uncertainties.

Real tax reform would liberate the U.S.’s ocean of pent-up capital and produce an economic boom, assuring continued GOP control of Congress. But Republicans like West Virginia’s Sen. Shelley Moore Capito see their reason for being as protecting the Medicaid status quo.

Some may say Mr. Trump and the Republicans will now take political ownership of the steady collapse of the ObamaCare exchanges. But he didn’t create these things; Congress did, and when voters elected a Congress to reform ObamaCare, it failed.

The press will dump full responsibility for this political nonfeasance on congressional Republicans, and voters will take it out on them in 2018. Health and Human Services can tinker with the failing ObamaCare exchanges, as it would have under Hillary Clinton anyway, and Mr. Trump can blame Congress for the residual mess.

As to Mr. Trump’s low approval rating, the danger there was always that it would scare away Republicans from his agenda. That looks moot now. The Republicans’ approval rating is no doubt already plummeting. Mr. Trump’s approval will rise as the economy improves and if he modulates himself by about half, as he’s done recently.

Most intriguing of all is the longer term future of Mr. Trump’s formal relationship with the Republican Party. After voters in 2018 reorder Congress, Mr. Trump can consolidate his base with a big infrastructure bill co-designed by Democrats and likely approved by independent voters. By then, the Republican opposition that tanked ObamaCare reform will be irrelevant.

And please, hold the faux shock when Mr. Trump, a nonideological pragmatist, entertains Chuck Schumer’s Medicare-for-all as the final health-care fix. In Mr. Trump’s world, subcontractors come and go. The GOP shouldn’t bother trying to collect for work done.

This disorder could surface the possibility that dare not speak its name until now: a more centrist Trumpian political party of the sort favored by Ivanka Trump. No one thought Emmanuel Macron’s party bolt in France could go so far.

Look who’s out front undermining Mr. Trump’s health-care reform: Ted Cruz, Rob Portman, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The nominal reasons each has given for opposing the reform don’t add up. What makes sense is compulsively ambitious Republican politicians positioning themselves to emerge from the rubble and run in 2020 against what they think will be a wounded president. They may end up with nothing but the rubble.

Reasons abound for the GOP’s rump opposition to spend the July 4 holiday rethinking what it is doing. But the biggest of all is this: After eight years of rule by progressive presidential decree, they are putting in motion four more years of centralizing power by a Republican president. The opposition may alter American government forever, but this couldn’t be further from what they intended.

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