The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare would be a stinging defeat for Trump. But it would be an even bigger defeat for Paul Ryan, who has all but staked his Speakership on passing this bill. And in the hall of mirrors that is Washington, the big winner to emerge out of the health-care debacle could be Steve Bannon. That’s because Bannon has been waging war against Ryan for years. For Bannon, Ryan is the embodiment of the “globalist-corporatist” Republican elite. A failed bill would be Bannon’s best chance yet to topple Ryan and advance his nationalist-populist economic agenda.So Bannon might get what he wants as a right-wing bomb-thrower and gadfly: the downfall of Paul Ryan. But what is Bannon getting as a top government aide to the president of the United States -- someone whose job is presumably crafting policy and laws?
... According to a source close to the White House, Bannon said that he’s unhappy with the Ryan bill because it “doesn’t drive down costs” and was “written by the insurance industry.” While the bill strips away many of Obamacare’s provisions, it does not go as far as Bannon would wish to “deconstruct the administrative state” in the realm of health care....
Whether or not the bill passes, Ryan has been weakened, the pro-Breitbart Freedom Caucus has been emboldened. It’s hard to see how the Republican health-care civil war hasn’t been a boon for Bannon.
Ross Douthat, of all people, makes some good points:
Bannon, unfortunately, so far seems like a walking impulse in search of a substantive agenda.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 24, 2017
Is there a Bannonist alternative to the health care bill implied here, or just a bunch of populist mental gestures?https://t.co/s4GiuKmamH— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 24, 2017
Bannon is the main ideologist of Trumpism with Trump's ear. Trump needs him to have substantive influence on policy. Not impressed so far.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 24, 2017
@DouthatNYT seriously though, isn't it possible what he cares about is gutting the "state" and scaring immigrants? Not trying to be glib— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) March 24, 2017
@IChotiner Of course. But he's postured as having a vision of how to make the GOP a workers' party.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 24, 2017
@IChotiner Which makes him the only major person in Trump's orbit who has claimed to have a fleshed-out vision of what Trump campaigned on.— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 24, 2017
We all know that the president is stupid, incurious, and unwilling to bone up on policy. I think most of us have been thinking that Bannon, by contrast, is stupid -- evil, yes, but not stupid. We've been assuming he reads (although his reading includes books that are staggeringly racist and melodramatically apocalyptic). We've assumed he has policy ideas, even if they're awful. But what are his ideas -- apart from the idea that America's greatness is inversely proportional to its median melanin level?
Where is the populist/nationalist health care plan? Will there be a populist/nationalist plan on taxes, or will that be outsourced to Ryan and the GOP leadership as well? (So far, it seems as if that's what's happened.)
And if Bannon is really the guy behind the legendary (and now vaporware-y) infrastructure plan, why is the White House alienating every Democrat and creating an environment in which power might shift to the Freedom Caucus, which will almost certainly see infrastructure as wasteful, budget-busting government spending?
Bannon is clearly less stupid than his boss. But he seems to have few detailed policy ideas and he seems to know nothing about how you build coalitions in Washington. And why would he? He built a career at Breitbart on pure rage and resentment, which is something you can do when you're an outsider shaking your fist at the people in power. But that's not good preparation for being in power.
If he chose to, Bannon could be a European-style nationalist/populist, with a program that combines racism with government social programs for the Volk. But ultimately he's a standard-issue Republican whose hatred of liberalism is rarely if ever superseded by the paleoconservative populism he's glommed onto as an excuse for his deep-seated racism.
And he knows nothing about government. So when it comes to running the country, the two most powerful people have no idea what the hell they're doing.