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Conservative Writer Breaks Down GOP Divisions Over Health Care


The American Health Care Act, the Republican Party's proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare, has picked up a few nicknames lately from its own party, and they're not exactly flattering. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has called it Obamacare Lite. Conservative radio host Mark Levin referred to it as rhino care, rhino as in Republican in name only. And one day after the AHCA was unveiled last week, Breitbart called it Obamacare 2.0. The leader behind that new health care bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has come under fire from Republicans, too.

Joining us now to talk about all this is Erick Erickson. He's a conservative writer and radio host. Welcome back to the program.

ERICK ERICKSON: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Now, we want to add your nickname to this list, which is swamp care.


CORNISH: What about the American Health Care Act - this proposal from the Republicans - is a problem for you?

ERICKSON: A lot of it. The problem is I think they started from the premise of we have to make sure the government insures as many people as possible instead of we have to make sure that we introduce enough competition to lower the cost of health care so Americans can afford it themselves. The result of which is their premises and pre-suppositions going into forming it were much more about government-provided coverage than about reducing costs for all Americans, which going into it was the chief complaint - that it was too expensive for people.

CORNISH: You know, when you look at the array of people who have come out against this bill, conservative commentators as well, what do you see the role of something like Breitbart news - right? - given that Breitbart's former executive chair Steve Bannon is now president Trump's chief strategist. That news site very much is running articles against the bill and against House Speaker Paul Ryan.

ERICKSON: I think they're trying to find their way like everyone else in the post-Trump world as to where do they find the balance between being a cheerleader for a president they clearly supported and not being a cheerleader of Republicans they've opposed for a very long time. And they're also in this weird position now where a lot of people who used to trust them don't and a lot of people who hadn't heard of them now do rely on them as a trusted news source and trying to chart that water now in the post-Trump era is a very difficult thing for everyone.

CORNISH: What does that mean for someone like House Speaker Ryan? I mean, we saw what happened to John Boehner - right? - when there is a constituency and then a news organization that can be a megaphone for that constituency.

ERICKSON: Well, I don't know necessarily that Paul Ryan is particularly fixated on Breitbart except to the extent of wondering whether or not it is a megaphone for Steve Bannon, which increasingly doesn't seem likely. I think the speaker has a problem internally in that his caucus is still as divided as it ever was. But I think both sides understand, unlike with the prior speaker, that he really is working to keep his promises to both sides, and he's not overextending himself for both sides - writing checks and making promises he can't keep.

CORNISH: What do you see this battle over this particular bill as a kind of proxy for? Like, what are the competing, I guess, polls we're seeing come out of the conservative discussion about this?

ERICKSON: This is a proxy for the fight over conservatism versus nationalism within the Republican Party. Nationalism is a primary focus on what is good for the blood and soil Americans who are here existing now. Conservatism is more universal that we believe more limited government and promotion of individual liberty helps everyone regardless of where you come from as long as you're committed to the idea of America.

And Republicans are having this internal struggle with the election of Donald Trump who really isn't a conservative as to where to take the party. And you're seeing many Republicans try to help the president in his agenda in that direction. But conservatives are still saying, no, the party has underlying core principles that aren't tied to any one person.

CORNISH: You know, during the campaign you were someone who experienced some difficulty kind of within the conservative movement, right? And there was some splintering there as people try to figure out how or if they were going to embrace Donald Trump. Is it kind of crazy to you that this bill and this issue, which Republicans talked about for so long, is like uniting everyone again?

ERICKSON: It really is. And what's so interesting is it's uniting Republicans in Washington against their base yet again and the base against Washington. This seems almost like an episode of Maury Povich where we're waiting for the paternity test to see if Republicans really did support repeal since 2010. It turns out repeal really is their baby. They just haven't actually owned up to that fact yet.

CORNISH: That's Erick Erickson. He's the founder of the conservative website The Resurgent. Thanks so much.

ERICKSON: Thank you.