President Donald Trump capped what has been a difficult week politically with an all-out push for tax reform Friday. In a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, Trump promised to deliver on a “giant, beautiful, massive, the biggest ever in our country, tax cut.”
Trump is eager to move past setbacks on health care reform and the results of a Republican Senate primary Tuesday in Alabama where he found himself on the losing side. The president and his administration also have been on the defensive over hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Health care defeat
Senate Republicans put off a vote on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare after it became clear they did not have enough votes to pass the measure, thanks to a handful of Republican defectors.
Democrats expressed relief they had beaten back another attempt to undo former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
“The reason this bill failed is because millions of Americans didn’t want it,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters at the Capitol.
Rise of Roy Moore
On the same day, Christian conservative and former judge Roy Moore easily won a Republican Senate primary in Alabama, defeating incumbent Luther Strange, whom Trump had supported.
“We are put here on Earth for a short time, and for that short time our duty it to serve almighty God,” Moore said in his victory speech.
Moore has made controversial statements on a number of issues in the past, but he is considered the favorite in a race against Democrat Doug Jones in a general election Dec. 12.
Trump had appeared with Strange the week before at a rally in Alabama, but even some analysts said his heart did not appear to be in it.
“Trump was campaigning for Luther Strange, but you could tell he was having some second thoughts about that,” said Republican strategist John Feehery.
Harbinger of division?
Moore’s victory, aided by the active support of former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, signals what could be a series of divisive Republican primary battles heading into next year’s midterm congressional elections.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, the former chief political strategist for President George W. Bush, warned that “tough primary contests next year” will drain Republican funds that “might otherwise be used to defeat Democrats.”
Rove added that the latest failure on health care will “only deepen” Republican “distress” in advance of the midterms, and that passing tax reform has become “an existential imperative.”
WATCH: Amid Setbacks, Trump Seeks Comfort in his Base
Trump in the middle
The Republican splits also could ensnare the president in a series of internecine party battles.
“The more he [Trump] pursues the interests of the people who voted him into office at the expense of the Republican leadership, the greater the tensions within the Republican Party will become,” said Brookings Institution analyst Bill Galston.
Trump also courted controversy by waging a battle with professional football players about protests during the national anthem over concerns about racial in justice.
“For people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think is disgraceful,” Trump said at the White House Tuesday.
Many NFL players, coaches and some team owners took exception to the president’s critique.
“It seems like every time he is opening his mouth, it is something that is dividing our country and not pulling us together,” said New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Base remains loyal
Trump supporters seemed to rally to the president’s side over the controversy. But some experts saw the NFL flap as an unnecessary political distraction.
“When Donald Trump is tweeting about the NFL and that distracts attention from passing tax reform or repealing and replacing Obamacare, the voters get upset about that,” said GOP strategist Feehery. “They don’t want all the nonsense. They want stuff to get done.”
Trump’s job approval rating averages 40 percent in recent public opinion polls, up slightly from last month. And despite the recent setbacks, Feehery sees few signs that Trump’s core supporters are preparing to abandon him.
“President Trump is not someone who is playing by the usual rules, and I think his disruptive nature actually plays pretty well with a Republican base that is very unhappy with Washington,” he said.
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