Donald Trump is a lousy negotiator and House Speaker Paul Ryan is an incompetent ideologue. Those are supposed to be the takeaways of the Obamacare repeal debacle, but anyone with a pulse who has been paying attention could have told you the same years ago. No question that the failure will damage the GOP’s agenda. After all, not being able to pass a bill you’ve promised for seven years when you have control over the executive and legislative branches of government is a pretty fair definition of political incompetence.
But if you think that the failure means that the end of the right-wing’s entire wish list, think again. Failure has its limits. Here are four points to keep in mind as the Republicans try to get their act together.
1. The Administration doesn’t need Congress to do damage
Trump is populating his administration with right-wing fanatics (when he is populating it at all). There’s his Cabinet, of course, with such dim bulbs as Rick Perry and Ben Carson. But more frightening is the largely faceless layer beneath the Cabinet heads. These are the folks who can carry out a lot of changes through rules and regulations without any input from Congress. And by all accounts, they are a pretty wild bunch. If they want to use the levers within their agency to come after us, there’s no stopping them. Just one example: the antigay groups that the administration has appointed to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
2. One loss doesn’t mean others will follow
In the Obamacare replacement bill, Paul Ryan displayed his unique talent to alienate both the far-right and moderates in his caucus. But if he brought a religious liberty bill to the floor, he only has to worry about moderates. He can afford to lose them, since their numbers are so tiny. The Republicans may be in disarray, but anti-gay animus is still a unifying factor for them.
3. Trump can recover
Bill Clinton began his administration by promising to repeal the ban on gays in the military. What ensued was a bipartisan political firestorm during which Clinton had his head handed to him and we got saddled with the oppressive Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Yet Clinton managed to claw his way back with some significant legislative achievements and went on to win re-election. If Trump wants to apply himself to the hard work of governing (a big if), he still has plenty of time to succeed.
4. Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court would mean decades of anti-gay rulings
In the long-run, the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is potentially much more destructive than any legislative change. Gorsuch played cute during his hearings, but he did make an important admission. “I’ve tried to treat each case and each person as a person—not a ‘this kind of person,’ not a ‘that kind of person,’” Gorsuch said. The problem with that response is that our gains from the Supreme Court are precisely because the Court recognized as a a particular class of people. Gorsuch is subtly suggesting that he’s not on board with that approach. You can cue the bad decisions from him the second he’s sworn in.