The Republican Party is in chaos.
Healthcare reform is dying in the backrooms of the Senate. Tax reform efforts are divided between a White House that wants rate cuts at all costs, and others who want reduced rates alongside eliminated loopholes. And the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., is now implicated in conspiracy with a foreign power.
How did we come to this?
How, just six months after Republicans took control of the presidency and Congress, is chaos now triumphant?
Well, for a start, it's down to leadership. President Trump has led as if he's the chief executive of a unitary organization rather than the chief executive of a vast bureaucracy.
Power in Trump Tower rests with one man and a staff who are paid to obey. Conversely, power in Washington rests with 535 representatives of the American people, all of who must face unique electorates.
That's why in Congress, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been unable to draw their divided caucuses together. There are too many separate interests at play. And Trump simply does not inspire members of Congress to go out on a limb for him. For all his other failings, in 2010, Obama was able to inspire Democrats to get Obamacare passed.
In part, of course, there is a method in the present madness. At least on the part of the Founding Fathers!
As James Madison noted in Federalist No. 47, "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
The balancing of powers that defines the U.S. system of government is designed to prevent the authoritarian impulses of power. Absent that checking influence, we would see the power of the people transferred to the power of the legislative whips.
In the U.K. for example, whips in Parliament have far greater power to extract votes than in Congress. It's not because the British whips have more power per se, it's because members of Parliament have the chance of joining the executive branch: the ministers who make up the British government. But if they don't play ball, they won't get the jobs they crave. It's a patronage system.
We're lucky to have a more democratic approach to government.
Still, leadership matters. And it's not at all clear that the present chaos was inevitable. Imagine what might have been had Republicans worked in a coordinated fashion to prepare for Obamacare's repeal and replacement. To be sure, some Senators might have changed their minds prior to voting but agreement would have been established far before January 3.
Or consider what might have been possible had Trump decided to listen to members of Congress rather than tweet at them. Or send Bannon to threaten them.
Republicans have a little more than a year to get their acts in gear. If they do, and manage to pass legislation of substance (whether on healthcare, taxes, infrastructure, entitlements, or immigration), they may yet retain control of Congress.
One benefit to the GOP here is the dysfunction of the Democratic Party. If Republicans faced a serious opposition, hope would be looking a lot less possible.
Nevertheless, Americans are clear: we like winners. If Republicans don't start putting legislative points on the board, they'll be losing come next November. And to start winning, they must first end the chaos.