Brilliant and transformative reporting by Politico on the collapse of the Trumpcare/Ryancare agenda shows that we have passed a critical step in moving from having two parties to three. A consequence is that we no longer have single party government, but coalition government — and a dysfunctional coalition at that.
The key paragraph describes the crucial March 6 meeting of the Freedom Caucus, just after the release of the plan. The members of the Caucus were deeply aware of the intense pressure about to be put on them, and fearful of one on one appeals:
In a conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group met that evening and made a secret pact. No member would commit his vote before consulting with the entire group — not even if Trump himself called to ask for an on-the-spot commitment. The idea, hatched by Freedom Caucus vice chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was to bind them together in negotiations and ensure the White House or House leaders could not peel them off one by one.
With about 36 members, and although only about two thirds formally took the pledge, given the numbers, that was really the end of the game. The Caucus were so protective of each other that at one meeting, when Ryan tried to get each of them to state where they stood, the gorp in effect refused.
So, going forward, once the Caucus takes this position, nothing can get passed without Democratic help, and that’s even before counting the most moderate members of the House. Perhaps even more importantly, the group has demonstrated that they are willing to take and hold by such a position, regardless of cost to President, Speaker, and their nominal party and its agenda. Add the requirement of a coherent intellectual structure (which they have, using a technical definition of coherent) and you pretty much have at least a congressional party in the Freedom Caucus.
There are many problems with having coalition government, but right now perhaps the worst is that there is no institutional experience in managing such a situation. Indeed, the only ones who seem to have thought it through are the Democrats, including particularly Nancy Pelosi, who had in the last Congress brilliantly kept her caucus in line and used that unity, with the very skilled help of the President, to extract maximum advantage.
Going forward, this means huge leverage for the Democrats, provided they maintain the message discipline of keeping sufficiently quiet that they do not force the two Republic sub-parties back together.
It also means that there has to be a serious question as to whether through public splits and primaries the sub-become really separate parties, and perceived as such by the public. It helps that there are already strong links to at least two Senators.
Trump is already attacking Ryan, even if only indirectly so far. Given the Caucus veto on any successor, and given the total lack of appeal of the job of speaker, its hard to imagine any path forward that way. It is all a recipe for disaster for the group formerly known as the Republican Party.