Friday was the worst day of Donald Trump’s young presidency—an unprecedented defeat on his first legislative priority, which also happened to be his party’s signature promise for the last seven years and one of his own top campaign promises. What’s more, the collapse undercuts the central premise of Trump’s political identity, his supposedly formidable reputation as a dealmaker.
But what if, instead, Trump dodged a serious bullet on Friday, setting him up for a recovery? If that’s the case, Friday might even have perversely been the best day of Trump’s presidency so far—or at least the point where he hit rock-bottom, allowing him to turn things around.
This is not to argue, as Hugh Hewitt did, that last week was “a very good week for the conservative cause generally” and even less so, as Hewitt did, for “President Trump specifically.” Whatever progress was made on Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, Trump’s approval rating continues to plunge and his administration is under siege. Still, the coverage of the collapse has been so uniformly apocalyptic, and the press’s animosity toward Trump so manifest, that it may be useful to consider things from a fresh perspective.
With the failure of the repeal-and-replace effort, Trump—despite his own best efforts—unwittingly rescued himself from the passage of a hugely unpopular bill that would have hurt his own voters most. In a broader sense, Congress’s fractiousness saved Trump from having to follow through on an impossible campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, replace it with a conservative alternative, and expand coverage. Looking forward, post-health-care tension threatens to drive a wedge between Trump and Paul Ryan’s agenda, which is in many ways anathema to the Trump coalition.