The unveiling of the Trump-backed GOP healthcare plan was chaotic, met with declarations from crucial Republican senators that it was dead on arrival and followed by the release of polls showing that Obamacare is more popular than ever. It has created an image of a governing party in disarray—one that perhaps was able to win an election but that is altogether too internally divided and lacking in vision to actually accomplish any substantive policy changes.
And that may indeed be the fate of the current GOP majority. But it’s important to remember that of Trump’s four biggest domestic policy agenda items—healthcare, infrastructure, immigration, and tax cuts—healthcare is probably the area where his position is most unpopular and where success will be hardest to achieve, for the simple reason that the Obamacare repeal asks millions of voters to give something up, while the latter three do not (at least in the short term).
The Democratic Party’s strategy for the Trump years seems to be to duplicate and double down on Mitch McConnell’s strategy for President Obama’s first term—scorched-earth opposition, by any means, at every turn. But a recent CNN/ORC poll highlights the fact that it will be much more difficult for the Democratic strategy to hold when the Administration moves on from healthcare to another top priority: infrastructure.
The poll finds 79 percent approval for “increasing spending on infrastructure,” including among 75 percent of Democrats (and 87 percent of Republicans, many of whom would surely have answered the question differently during the Obama years). With numbers like these, it’s hard to see how full-throated “principled” opposition to an infrastructure package could be maintained.
That said, in order for an infrastructure bill to be effective—that is, for it to do more than funnel money inefficiently into cronyist boondoggle projects that will be reviewed by courts and administrative agencies for decades—it will need to be accompanied by major reforms. And these reforms—to tort law, to contracting procedures, the review process—will certainly motivate interest groups (think: lawyers, unions, environmentalists) to protect their turf.
The best path to blocking a Trump infrastructure push, then, would be for Democrats to support the spending and job-creation but take issue with the accompanying changes that would make the projects more efficient and worthwhile. They may succeed in nuking such provisions, if the Administration even offers them. However, infrastructure arguments are unlikely to generate the same kind of melodramatic #resistance rhetoric that has animated Trump-era debates so far, from the travel ban to the Obamacare repeal.
The GOP handling of healthcare so far has been embarrassing, and the path to victory for the Trump Administration on this core question looks more elusive by the day. But that does not mean that the Administration will be an across-the-board domestic policy failure on its own terms.