How to Neuter a Crossing Guard

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This is for my conservative friends who are celebrating the healthcare bill’s demise. You’ll want to read it all.

Let’s begin with a little story about a crossing guard.

Imagine you are standing at a dangerous intersection now. Cars whizzing by nonstop in all 4 directions. You feel powerless and frustrated. There are no structural safeguards, no physical barriers, to keep us from getting hit. There is a crossing guard, though.

This crossing guard can get us safely through the intersection if the drivers respect his authority and power. Only if they stop when he raises his hand. That’s all he’s got.

Those drivers take cues from each other. When they see other drivers stop, they stop, too. But when they see one driver run through the crossing guard’s stop sign, they all feel more emboldened to do the same.

Pretty soon, the crossing guard is just another poor slob standing on the side of the road with the rest of us. And none of us can get where we want to go.

In a moment, I’ll talk about the healthcare bill. But, first, I want to talk about breathing.

You Think Like You Breathe

Notice your breath for a moment. Are you breathing fast and shallow or slow and deep? Breathing is so important. Breathing affects our hormones and hormones affect our thinking. We can change our thinking by changing our breathing, and we can change breathing by changing our thinking.

Slow deep breaths cause the body to produce less cortisol. Fast, shallow breathing produces more cortisol. Cortisol causes weight gain, hardening of the arteries, and defensive thinking. The part of the brain where memories and strategy rest, the hippocampus, shuts down when cortisol levels rise. We react to the immediate stimuli without using our most valuable and effective knowledge. We become like animals snared in a trap.

That cortisol hormone does a good job of keeping us alive when we’re in extreme danger. But it does a huge disservice when we’re not under physical attack. In real danger, we don’t want to think deep thoughts. We want to hide, overpower our attacker, or run away.

Now that you’re aware of your breathing, you realize you’re not in physical danger. A tweet can’t really endanger you personally, can it?

The big enemy we all oppose here is big government. And we all know the bill Ryan crafted in the dark did little in that regard. So there was good reason to oppose that bill.

But there is also something larger at play here, and if you breathe slow and deep, you might feel better about a lot of things today.

Actions Have Consequences We Sometimes Don’t Consider

Remember how you felt on November 9? And remember how you felt on January 20. Remember seeing all those violent protesters in Washington and other places? Which team were you on then? Maybe you didn’t say anything, but you were probably on Trump’s team. You were probably a little proud and amazed that he did it. Despite all the doubts and all the MSM 98% certainty that Hillary Clinton would choose Antonin Scalia’s replacement, you were happy to be on the winning team.

You might find yourself breathing even deeper now just thinking about that winning day. We tend to take a deep breath when we win.

That inauguration day was less than 70 days ago, so the memory is still fresh in your mind. Then, you probably expected all kinds of great things. With a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican President, we could do a lot to realize our dreams of smaller government and a growing economy. Who doesn’t want to make America great again?

And then some Congress people reverted to their old ways. Bills written by lobbyists. But that’s not the worst thing that could happen.

Now imagine this: imagine if Neil Gorsuch gets rejected by the Senate. Imagine one or two squishy Republican Senators like Susan Collins deciding Trump doesn’t have the political power anymore to hold her vote. Imagine if Mitch McConnell decides, after that healthcare vote, that it’s too risky to use the nuclear option on Gorsuch. There’s no going back from that option, really. The next Democrat president will have it, too, just as Trump’s cabinet benefits from the Democrats’ nuclear option.

Many people are saying the health care bill’s failure has greatly reduced Trump’s power. He might already be a lame duck, along with this Congress.

If you’re breathing faster and shallower now, just pay attention to your breathing. You will start to breathe slower and deeper in a moment. And that’s important because you don’t want a lot of cortisol clogging your arteries and shutting down your hippocampus.

Consequences We Might Own

Blocking the healthcare bill was a high stakes gamble. It took a lot of courage to fight against a president in his first 100 days. I can’t remember a newly inaugurated president getting hit so hard so early in his administration. Reagan suffered a few setbacks, but nothing like this.

It’s very likely now that Obamacare will live forever. At least as long as you and I are alive. It’s also possible that there will be no tax reform. Do you think 8 Democrats are so afraid of the White House that they’ll break with their party to vote for cloture on a tax reform package now?  How do you see that happening?

It’s also possible that Gorsuch will be rejected, either because some squishy Republicans bail or because McConnell loses the nerve to change the filibuster rule. That means those Obama and Clinton judges in the appellate courts will decide the law until Trump finds a Supreme Court candidate so “moderate” that 8 Democrats will support them.  How do you think such a justice would rule on abortion, on gun control, and on immigration?

And if this Congress and this Republican president do nothing major between now and 2018, how do you expect voters to keep this Congress in power? Trump won because he recognized that many people think America is in bad shape and going in the wrong direction. They expected Trump and Congress to change the direction of the country. If nothing gets done, won’t they try something new? Remember, most voters are not like you and me. Most voters don’t care about our principles. And in-fighting among Republicans only makes them care less about those principles. To the average American voter, we all sound strange and abstract. To the average voter, we care more about academic theories than we do about their lives. You can probably remember hearing this from people yourself if you think about it.

How’s your breath going? Just take a deep breath and feel your stomach swell out. You’ll want access to your memories soon.

Our Crossing Guard and Our Accountability

Now, remember that crossing guard? The Freedom Caucus and some conservative think tanks drove the first car through the stop sign. If the other drivers—McConnell, Collins, Schumer—see there’s no consequence to ignoring the crossing guard, we’ll all fail to get where we’re going.

Maybe we don’t like the way the crossing guard distributes the stopping and going. Maybe we don’t like the hand signals he uses. But, until Friday, he was at least trying to get a few of us to the other side. He was trying to get some of us a little closer to our destinations safely.

Maybe that crossing guard will get some of his power back. Because principles without power are just platitudes. I hope so. I know of all the great things the Heritage Foundation and the Freedom Caucus have done. But neither Heritage nor the Freedom Caucus can stop that traffic without a strong, respected crossing guard.

You, like me, believe in accountability. And you, like me, recognize that accountability begins with ourselves. When we choose a direction, we must accept the consequences of our choice. Conservatives may have laid the foundation for Democrats retaking Congress in 2018. If that happens, the Freedom Caucus, Heritage, and Club for Growth own at least 40 percent of the blame.

I now return you to your natural breathing.

Without Power, Principles Are Platitudes

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Without power, principles are platitudes.

Consider this a favor to the Freedom Caucusers. Those folks can’t see past the end of their own principles.

Knowing the Freedom Caucus people pretty well, I know they’re very happy with Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. I know they’d be very miserable if Gorsuch were rejected and Trump had to nominate someone who could win a few Democrat votes.

It’s all about power.

Why Gorsuch’s Chances Just Dropped

And, thanks to Speaker Ryan and the Freedom Caucus, Neil Gorsuch’s chances of confirmation just dropped below 50-50. That’s because the Senate’s two squishiest Republicans just saw there’s no consequence to bucking the President. And those Republicans who considered the nuclear option just learned there’s no benefit in sticking your neck out for the President.

Add it all up, and Paul Ryan and the Freedom Caucus have, for the time being, made Trump a one-term President and made this Congress a lame duck. All in less than 80 days. Good work, boys.

Expect to hear Mitch McConnell tamp down talk of the nuclear option. And don’t be surprised if you hear Susan Collins (and one or two others) equivocate on their support for Gorsuch. It’ll probably happen during the Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer has a new, heavy bludgeon to keep Democrat Senators from voting “aye” on Gorsuch. Expect 48 Democrats to vote “no.”

Power shifted on Friday. Big league.

The GOP Is Dangerously Weak

Right now, Donald Trump is very weak. Paul Ryan is even weaker. But the Freedom Caucus is also weak. The Freedom Caucus remains an obstructive faction composed of people who show little or no understanding of power. (If you want to learn about power, read Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. It’s a masterpiece.)

To get his power back, Trump needs to isolate, personalize, and destroy a member of the Freedom Caucus. This takedown needs to be obvious, transparent, and ruthless. Trump needs to show Republican Senators that bucking the White House on major issues is a career ender. And he needs to act with blinding speed.

Trump can borrow a tactic from the Tea Party. It was a tactic we borrowed from Saul Alinsky:

Rule 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Once Trump’s team has destroyed a Freedom Caucuser, a House faction needs to do the same to Paul Ryan. Trump should not attack Ryan directly, though. The chances of taking down a Speaker are slim. If the President tries and fails to take down Ryan, his presidency is over. Besides, in retrospect, people will credit Trump with the takedown if it’s successful. People are conditioned to think it’s the kind of thing Trump would do.

Within the House of Representatives, it doesn’t matter who goes after Ryan. Just about any faction of the House Republican caucus has good cause to take down Ryan. Once they see the Alinsky method used successfully against one of their own, they’ll know what to do.

And once those Republican Senators see Trump carve up both a Freedom Caucus member and the establishment Speaker, they will fall in line.

People follow power.

America’s Survival Hangs in the Balance

Look, if you read my blog, you know I helped, in tiny ways, the Freedom Caucus to come about. Almost every member of the Freedom Caucus got to Congress thanks to the Tea Party.

My complicity in creating the Freedom Caucus doesn’t mean I support their actions blindly. It means I accept accountability for the Freedom Caucus’s actions. The way some Freedom Caucus members handled the healthcare bill was embarrassingly childish. As J. Marsolo writes on American Thinker:

But it came down to about fifteen Republicans, mostly from the conservative Freedom Caucus, who refused to vote for the Ryan plan, as modified by Trump.  It is difficult to understand why the Republicans could not compromise with the fifteen Freedom Caucus members to pass the bill.  It is also difficult to understand why these fifteen did not compromise and refused to vote.

The key is to repeal Obamacare.  Now they have their principles, and we have Obamacare.

Right now, I firmly believe the Freedom Caucus and Paul Ryan have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Their stupidity and childishness have damaged their President, possibly beyond repair. They have made a Republican Congress useless. Absent a dramatic move, Democrats will take control of the House of Representives and possibly the Senate on January 3, 2019. And Corey Booker will become the 46th President on January 20, 2021.

If that’s what the Freedom Caucus wants, I’m out.

Only Trump can save Republicans from themselves. Saving the Republican Party requires culling the herd. It’s time to put the fear of Trump back into Republican hearts.

Without power, principles are platitudes.

And there’s hope. This morning, President Trump tweeted this:

Great minds think alike.

7 Questions for the Freedom Caucus

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Yesterday, I placed blame for the healthcare debacle at Speaker Ryan’s feet. I also wrote that I expected the Republican establishment to blame the tea party. To blame us for aborting the Trump presidency in his first 100 days.

Today, I’m going to beat the establishment to that punch a little. Because the Freedom Caucus and some of my favorite action organizations looked a little juvenile in this debate. Juvenile and stupid. In fact, if this were an auto accident (instead of a trainwreck) I’d allocate responsibility at about 60% to Ryan and 40% to the Freedom Caucus.

But that’s my initial assessment. I could change my mind if I get some answers to these questions.

  1. Did you honestly believe that the bill you defeated was worse than Obamacare?
  2. Did you honestly believe that defeating Paul Ryan’s bill would inspire the Republican establishment to write a better bill?
  3. Did you honestly try to improve the bill, or did you decide early on to just kill it?
  4. What is your end state on health care?
  5. What is your plan to achieve that end state?
  6. Do you accept the assessment by many that you retroactively vote “aye” on Obamacare, seven years after the fact?
  7. Do you accept accountability for the consequences of defeating the new president in his first major legislative initiative?

I’d love to hear from the House Freedom Caucus members themselves. I know some of those members committed to voting “aye” on the bill yesterday. And others bargained in good faith, indicated they really wanted to vote for the bill.

Others, however, wanted to kill the bill because of the hamfisted way Ryan brought it from the dark to the light. These obstructionists intended to inflict their damage no matter how good the bill became. I direct my questionnaire to those saboteurs. I wonder if they realize how much damage they might have just done to their own cause. I wonder if they realize that people prefer incremental improvement to shock treatment.

I wrote, if this bill fails, Obamacare is here to stay. The bill failed.

Everyone who helped kill the bill helped keep Obamacare around. You said in effect, “I hate Obamacare, but it’s better than what the Republicans offered.” In other words, the 30 or so holdouts in the House own Obamacare now. As do those activist organizations who cheered on the obstructionists.

I’ve written before of my affinity for Patton’s quote:

A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances.

— George Patton

When Donald Trump won in November, circumstances changed dramatically. Leaders would have adapted their principles to these new circumstances. Both Ryan and his opponents seemed determined to adapt circumstances to their principles. They both failed.

[Read how strategy beats hyperventilation]

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I have a feeling that the Freedom Caucus did what 16 Republicans, Hillary Clinton, and the entire mainstream media establishment could not. I have a feeling the Freedom Caucus destroyed Donald Trump’s chances of winning. And I’m not alone.

From Daniel Flynn at Breitbart:

Presidents never get second chances to make first impressions. So, Donald Trump’s opportunities to repeal and replace ObamaCare after this week’s failures diminish as time passes.

The late Milton Friedman in his book The Tyranny of the Status Quo noted that “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity. Further changes come slowly or not at all, and counterattacks develop against the initial changes. The temporarily routed political forces regroup, and they tend to mobilize everyone who was adversely affected by the changes, while the proponents of the changes tend to relax after their initial victories.”

. . .

Prospects for Republicans fulfilling their seven-year-old promise to the American people now look bleak. And conservatives, once again, find themselves conserving liberal laws.

From “Freedom Caucus drives dagger into heart of young Trump presidency” by Elizabeth Peek on FoxNews.com:

It is hard to overestimate the damage the Freedom Caucus has done to the fledgling presidency of Donald Trump, and to the country. By blocking the American Health Care Act of 2017, the conservative group has guaranteed that Americans will struggle forward under the burden of Obamacare. In the next few months insurers will announce their premium hikes for the coming year; chances are, given the continuing withdrawal of major companies from the marketplaces and the ongoing failure of the bill to attract enough young and healthy participants, the new rates will not be pretty. Last year premiums went up 25%; it’s likely the increases will be higher this year.

. . .

This is the truth: the Freedom Caucus has breathed new life into the demolished Democratic Party.

We shall see if Ms. Peek’s and Mr. Flynn’s grim conclusions are correct. But their assessments of the immediate damage seems obvious. And the lack of mature leadership from the Freedom Caucus is indisputable.

When I think of leadership, I think of Patton. Paul Ryan gave us General Fredendall. The Freedom Caucus gave us even less.

UPDATE: From Peggy Noonan who sees things so clearly:

Politically it’s all obvious. For the new administration it is a loss and a significant one. It has damaged the new president’s prestige. Every president until he fails has the aura of unused power. Boy, when I use it, you’re gonna see muscle. He used it. No muscle. Fatal? No. Damaging and diminishing? Yes. It is an embarrassment too for Speaker Paul Ryan.Together they could not get a win on the board after they threw everything they have into it. This does not speak well for everything they have.

. . .

The central dynamic behind the bill’s difficulties is that the Republican conference in the House is divided between institutionalists, who support the leadership; conservatives, who found the bill too soft; and moderates, who found it too hard. By putting forward the bill, they allowed this division—which was wholly predictable and may be irreconcilable—to play out as a public breakdown rather than an impasse.

From Philip Klein in Washington Examiner:

In this case, the hardliners were playing a productive role by pointing out the real policy consequences of the piecemeal approach being pursued by the House leadership. Though we’ll never know for sure how the numbers might have looked if a vote had taken place, it’s clear that many centrist members of the Republican caucus were also prepared to vote this bill down. House conservatives, if they could be blamed for anything, it’s for having the audacity to urge leadership to actually honor seven years of pledges to voters to repeal Obamacare. If anybody was moving the goal posts, it wasn’t Freedom Caucusers, it was those who were trying to sell a bill that kept much of Obamacare’s regulatory architecture in place as a free market repeal and replace plan.

Finally, from Robert Costa, whom President Trump called immediately upon pulling the bill:

What happened with the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line conservatives he had wooed over and over again?

“Ah, that’s the big question,” Trump said with a slight chuckle. “Don’t know. I have a good relationship with them, but I couldn’t get them. They just wouldn’t do it.”

Trump alluded to long-running, simmering dramas on Capitol Hill, which he said had little to do with him, as a reason the Freedom Caucus could not back the bill.

“Years of hatred and distrust,” he said. “Long before me.”

Was Trump saying, perhaps, that the inability of Ryan and his team to work well with that caucus was part of why talks stalled?

“Well, look, you can say what you want,” Trump said. “But there are years of problems, great hatred and distrust, and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”

“I think they made a mistake, but that’s okay,” Trump said of the Freedom Caucus.