We’ve been gorging on the travails of Donald Trump and the Republicans. When a president and his own governing party step in so many cowpats in so brief a period of time, it’s hard to avert your gaze. What’s next? Mitch McConnell’s drops his trousers on the steps of Congress?
That happened already, of course. The humiliation that was the Senate rebuke in the wee hours of Friday to McConnell’s last-gasp effort to kill the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – can’t be overstated. A majority leader just doesn’t ask for a floor vote unless he knows how it will turn out. Not at 1.30am. Not when half the land has stayed awake to watch. Not when the thing you’re trying to do has been the sole obsession of your party for nigh on eight years.
But let’s give some due to the Democrats, who have almost been forgotten in all of this. “It’s been a long, long road. I suggest we turn the page,” Chuck Schumer, the Minority leader, offered minutes after McConnell’s so-called “Skinny Bill” at least to unwind parts of Obamacare fell to defeat. If the senator from New York was looking smug, you could hardly blame him.
Hillary Clinton wins! That was the headline we thought we were going to be reading last November. But maybe now she does. The one thing that most terrified her supporters about the unthinkable occurring – complete Republican control of Washington – was that the only really big thing Democrats had done in eight years with Barack Obama at the top would be destroyed.
Obamacare, an attempt at last to bring a kind of universal health coverage to the last country in the developed world not to have it, was, Clinton declared, “one of the great accomplishments not only of this president, but of the Democratic Party going back to Harry Truman”.
Call it a vicarious victory for Clinton, at least. It comes thanks to Schumer who warned colleagues in January that Republicans would try to pick them off one by one in their quest to kill the health law. Only by sticking together would they thwart them. This wasn’t going to be easy. The Democrats are no more ideologically homogeneous than the Republicans are, ranging from Bernie Sanders on the left to Joe Manchin of West Virginia to the centre. But they did it.
They also coordinated with a fearsome army of grass-roots resisters, including groups like MoveOn.org, Indivisible and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Relations were sometimes tense, the anti-Trump factions not always convinced the Senate Democrats would stay strong. Indeed, Schumer was not always as obstructive on the Hill as they wanted. But his strategy of more constructive resistance – he allowed members to talk to Republicans about improving Obamacare but never, ever about repealing it outright – worked. Instead of Republicans exploiting Democrat disunity, it was Democrats who exploited their’s.