23 February 2019
Although Donald Trump (R) has been trying to balance different interests within the Republican Party, the healthcare act defeat suggests such efforts are often futile. Photo: Reuters
Although Donald Trump (R) has been trying to balance different interests within the Republican Party, the healthcare act defeat suggests such efforts are often futile. Photo: Reuters

Power struggle within the Trump administration

It has been an open secret that members of the Trump administration have been anything but united ever since their boss took office in January. One striking example of the heavy infighting within the administration is the recent power struggle between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former chief advisor to the White House Steven Bannon.

However, when it comes to the incident that truly highlights the deep divisions within the Trump administration and perhaps the entire Republican Party, it has got to be President Trump’s recent failure to repeal Obamacare, which is by far his biggest political setback since he took office.

Abolishing Obamacare had become a main theme of Donald Trump’s campaign since the day he declared his candidacy.

In March this year, less than a hundred days into his presidency, Trump finally unveiled his policy initiative to replace the Obamacare, which he had continuously referred as a “disaster”. Known as the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA), Trump’s ambitious universal health care plan was aimed at providing affordable health care insurance to more average Americans.

Unfortunately, despite current Republican control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, President Trump, much to his surprise and dismay, was unable to push the AHCA through Congress, and had to temporarily withdraw the bill.

And the main reason why the AHCA failed to pass Congress is not because the Democrats were standing in the way, but rather because the GOP itself was seriously split over the bill.

Among the biggest skeptics of the AHCA was the “Freedom Caucus”, an extremely conservative faction within the GOP which is made up of some 30 federal lawmakers led by Congressman Mark Meadows representing the state of North Carolina, and which played a pivotal role in blocking the bill.

Intriguingly, the reason why the Freedom Caucus was opposed to the AHCA was not because it wanted to keep Obamacare, but rather because it was dismayed at the fact that the new health care bill retained too many “socialist” elements of the Obamacare.

Such elements include the provisions that prohibit private insurance companies from screening their potential clients based on their health conditions and the clauses that retain the federal government’s leading role in the national healthcare insurance system, which are seen by the Freedom Caucus as a violation of the free market and laissez-faire principles.

Trump could have secured passage of his bill if he had been willing to compromise with the Freedom Caucus. However, he refused to do so as he feared that he would risk alienating the much more influential GOP moderates, on whom he will have to rely heavily to press ahead with his policy initiatives in the days ahead.

As we can see, what President Trump has been doing since he assumed office is trying to pull off a delicate balancing act between the different and often conflicting vested interests within the Republican Party in order to garner enough support for his policy initiatives.

However, so far his efforts to pull that off have proven largely unsuccessful, because it is always difficult to please one faction without angering the other. Trump has probably learned it the hard way through the bitter lesson of the AHCA.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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