At 2 o'clock on a Friday morning in July — after having successfully run in three national elections on their party's repeated promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which Barack Obama had spent the first two years of his own presidency (and a lot of political popularity) getting passed — the case of those in the Senate majority leadership to fellow Senate Republicans for honoring that vow came down to a single assurance: Vote for this bare-bones bill, which nobody has ever seen before and would take health care away from only 16 million of our fellow citizens, even though, you have our solemn word, it will never become law.
As weak as that reasoning may have been, it was far more persuasive than anything from the nation's chief executive, who chose to use his time to tell the world instead how he was "very disappointed with the attorney general," who, in addition to being "weak" and "beleaguered," had, by honorably recusing himself from any investigation of connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, been "unfair" to the president. This behavior once again raised the still-unanswered question for our elected billionaire leader: If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?
By the time the fateful roll call was made, observers had already learned, as established by their public and lonely willingness to stand up to threats from party leaders, that the only two Republican senators with demonstrably high testosterone levels were named Susan and Lisa — Ms. Collins of Maine and Ms. Murkowski of Alaska.
Because I was lucky enough to grow up in an Irish-American family, I took special delight in seeing John McCain dramatically cast the decisive vote that left the GOP leadership — which he had so forcefully opposed on tax cuts for the most advantaged, campaign finance reform and environmental issues — exposed as bereft of any coherent health policy.
Where I come from, Irish Alzheimer's is when you forget everything except your grudges. Recall: On July 18, 2015, in Ames, Iowa, candidate Donald Trump — who, by 1968, had sought and accepted four student deferments from military service while McCain was being subjected to torture at the North Vietnamese prison known as the "Hanoi Hilton" — said of the senior senator from Arizona: "He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured."
Make no mistake about it. Sen. McCain had already publicly criticized the so-called legislation the Senate was voting on at 2 o'clock in the morning and had eloquently condemned the closed, secret, totally partisan fashion by which it had been created. But you couldn't blame him if, just for a fleeting instant, he thought of Trump in Ames two years ago and remembered "He's not a war hero. ... I like people that weren't captured."
It turns out in the dog days of 2017 in the nation's capital that President Trump is neither loved nor feared. Successful presidents have always been at least one of the two, often both. His administration is in chaos; his White House is a civil war in a leper colony. Maybe someone should check with Jerry Falwell Jr. or the Rev. Franklin Graham after the on-the-record obscene character assassinations by Trump's incoming communications director, Anthony Scaramucci — just to see whether we can rest now that we have leaders of good moral character.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.