Over the last couple of years, it felt like the rules of American politics were being rewritten, in real time, in ways that were difficult to explain. There was no way Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination, just as there was no way he’d overcome the series of controversies that seemingly made his candidacy so ridiculous, just as there was no way he’d actually win the presidency.
Two years ago, the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, a prominent political scientist, co-authored a piece on Trump’s electoral prospects. “If Trump is nominated,” the analysis said, “then everything we think we know about presidential nominations is wrong. History has shown that presidential nominations tend to follow a certain set of ‘rules.’”
The “rules” as we knew them no longer seemed to apply.
It’s against this backdrop that NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin raised a good point yesterday about the demise of the Republican health care plan:
One notable aspect of repeal failure is that it’s among the first times political gravity has felt “normal” since Trump wins scrambled it.
Quite right. GOP leaders put together a pernicious piece of legislation, which was poorly structured and substantively incoherent. Republican officials struggled to explain why they were pushing the plan and what they hoped to accomplish with it. Making matters worse, their entire blueprint was based largely on falsehoods and broken promises.
The result was a bizarre political fight in which major health care legislation, written in secret without consultation from experts, drew opposition from doctors, nurses, hospitals, patient advocates, and insurers. What’s more, governors from both parties condemned the Republican bill in no uncertain terms.
And perhaps no one hated the bill more than the American people. It is no exaggeration to say the GOP health care proposal was the most unpopular bill considered by Congress in the last three decades.
You don’t need to be a political scientist to know this is a recipe for failure. The “rules” of American politics tell us when a poorly written health care bill, lacking in purpose, is vehemently opposed by industry stakeholders, governors, and voters, that bill dies.
And as of yesterday, the “rules” worked. What was supposed to happen, in fact, happened. The laws of “political gravity,” to borrow Sarlin’s phrase, have not yet been repealed.
There’s room for a conversation about how such an outrageous piece of legislation somehow earned the support of a major-party majority – a development that, at a minimum, suggests the “rules” are fraying – but for now, it’s refreshing and encouraging to see American politics work the way it’s supposed to.
The “era of Nothing Matters politics,” as recently described by Matt Yglesias, hasn’t taken over just yet.