Nobody really knows how last week’s mess at the Capitol will look from the standpoint of next year or even next month.
President Donald Trump blamed Democrats and the conservative House Freedom Caucus for the failure to overhaul the nation's health insurance system as promised.
But while some of Trump's media cheerleaders attacked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for falling short on votes, the president did not.
That's noteworthy, especially since Trump tends to lash out at nearly everyone who may frustrate him except family members and Vladimir Putin.
Publicly, Ryan expressed a degree of contrition.
“We were a 10-year opposition party, where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said. “Now, in three months’ time, we tried to go to a governing party, where we actually had to get 216 people to agree with each other on how we do things.”
For all we know, this may go down in the annals as a positive moment for Ryan and the Republican majority in Congress, for two reasons.
First, it sent a message to Trump — perhaps in a passive-aggressive way — that he can’t always get what he wants in Congress and that Ryan & Co. remain a force to contend with.
The president said “take it or leave it” and the House left it. Whatever warnings or threats the White House issued in private to Freedom Caucus members did not work. And if Ryan twisted arms for the bill, or issued threats, or spent any chits, it wasn’t apparent.
The hard-line caucus head, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) said Sunday: “I can tell you there is no conversation going on right now with regard to replacing the speaker.”
So here’s Ryan, drawing no fire from the president and seeing no insurrection in his caucus. Even if he can't claim victory, he doesn’t seem to have lost any clout.
Which brings us to the second reason that stalled action on the health care bill might not be such a bad thing politically for the House GOP.
Replacing Obamacare with Ryan’s bill would leave Trump and the Republicans responsible for what would follow.
Any program of this size and complexity would leave some voters dissatisfied. So for the time being, the GOP can continue to blame Democrats for the flaws of the status quo they created in 2009 when they had the majority under President Barack Obama.
And even as Trump and other Republicans described Obamacare as one of the great disasters of our time, they do not seem to have treated its repeal as an emergency.
No law prevents the new ruling elite in Washington from trying again sooner or later.
For political purposes, there's still a little time left to remain the anti-Obamacare “opposition party.”