Managing Scandal in the White House, October 24-25, 2019

Date: April 15, 2019

Location: Mississippi, United States

Subject Fields:

Political History / Studies, Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies, American History / Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations

From the XYZ Affair to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, scandals have persistently haunted American presidents. Almost every administration has faced public scrutiny for decisions taken or not taken, for cover-ups or spin, and personal or government transgressions. Scandals not only tarnish reputations of presidents seeking re-election, many also have a long legacy in historical consciousness. Ulysses S. Grant is still dogged by the Whiskey Ring, Warren G. Harding by Teapot Dome, Richard Nixon by Watergate, Ronald Reagan by Iran-Contra, and Bill Clinton by Monica Lewinsky, to name but a few.

The Department of History at Mississippi State University, in conjunction with the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and Museum at the Mitchell Memorial Library and the Presidential History Network, will host a two-day symposium, October 24-25, 2019, to analyze the history and memory of American presidential scandals. We invite scholars from all disciplines to submit paper proposals that investigate the ways in which scandal has been: managed or mismanaged by presidents and administration staff; shaped by the history of the era; prosecuted in the court of public opinion; depicted in popular culture or historiography; interpreted by international onlookers. Other proposals related to the theme of the symposium will receive full consideration.

Proposals for individual 20-minute papers or complete panels (3-4 papers) should include a 250-word abstract for each paper (and a 250-word overview for a complete panel) and a one-page CV for each presenter. Email submissions to Richard V. Damms ( by 15 April 2019.

The event will open with a keynote address by Bruce J. Schulman, William E. Huntington Professor of History, Boston University.

For further information, contact Richard V. Damms by email or at: (+1) 601-484-0167

Contact Info:

Richard V. Damms

Mississippi State University

(+1) 601-484-0167










American Politics Group Colloquium 2018

Friday 9 November 2018


British Library Knowledge Centre

96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB


10.30 - Registration/Coffee

11.00 - Welcome - APG Chair, Dr Andrew Wroe (Kent University) & APG Vice-Chair Dr Mara Oliva (University of Reading)

11.05 - Professor Robert Mason (University of Edinburgh) - 'The Republican Party and Donald Trump: perspectives from history?'

12.00 - Dr Emma Long (UEA) - 'The Supreme Court and the American Political Order'

13.00 - Neustadt Prize presented by Baroness Shirley Williams (Harvard Kennedy School)

13.20 - Lunch

14.20 - APG Travel Awards Presentation

14.35 - US Foreign Policy Round Table: Dr Jacob Parakilas (Chatham House), Ashlee Goodwin (Committee Specialist for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy), Kara Owen (Director, Americas at the Foreign Office), Prof Patrick Porter (Birmingham); Chair: Dr Mara Oliva (University of Reading)

15.30 - Coffee Break (with cakes)

16.00 - Congress to Campus: discussion with Former Members of Congress Martin Lancaster (D-NC, 1987-1995) and Tim Petri (R-WI, 1979-2015), chaired by Dr Alex Waddan (Leicester University)

17.00 - End

The colloquium is organised by the American Politics Group of the Political Studies Association in collaboration with the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. Supported by the US Embassy and the British Association for American Studies.






Peter Boyle

All members of the American Politics Group will be extremely saddened to learn of the death, at the age of 77, of Peter Boyle. Peter was a loyal participant in many APG events over several years. A long-term member of the American Studies Department at Nottingham University, Peter was the editor of The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence, 1953-55 (1990) and of The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence, 1955-57 (2012). His vast knowledge of, and admiration for, the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower was displayed in his 2005 book, Eisenhower, in the Pearson Profiles in Power series. Peter also made significant contributions to the study of US-Russian relations (American-Soviet Relations: from the Russian Revolution to the Fall of Communism (1993)) and, in various articles, to the study of Anglo-American relations, notably in the 1950s and early 1960s. Peter Boyle was a fine friend and colleague, as well as an outstanding scholar.

John Dumbrell (former Professor of Government, Durham University).





The PSA's American Politics Group Annual Conference will be held at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom on the 3rd to the 5th of January 2019.

This year's conference theme is "The Trump effect: A remade America and a remade world?" We are particularly interested in papers that explore Trump's impact on both domestic and international politics, but we will consider papers on all aspects of US politics, domestic and international.

Past conferences have had a strong postgraduate presence and we especially encourage young scholars to present their work.

If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send a title and abstract as soon as possible to

We will shortly announce the conference cost and open up a site for colleagues to register.



The 2018 PSA's American Politics Group Colloquium will be taking place on Friday, 9 November at the Eccles Centre at the British Library. Below is the programme for the day:

10.30 - Registration /coffee

11.00 - Welcome - APG Chair, Dr Andrew Wroe (Kent University) & APG Vice-Chair Dr Mara Oliva (University of Reading)

11.05 - Professor Robert Mason (University of Edinburgh) - The Republican Party and Donald Trump: Perspectives from History?

12.00 - Dr Emma Long (UEA) - The Supreme Court and the American Political Order

13.00 - Neustadt Prize presented by Dame Shirley Williams

13.20 - Lunch

14.20 - APG Travel Awards

14.35 - Foreign Policy Round Table: Dr Jacob Parakilas (Chatham House), Dr Ashlee Goodwin (Committee Specialist for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy), Dr Kara Owen (Director, Americas at the Foreign Office), Prof Patrick Porter (Birmingham).

Chair: Dr Mara Oliva (University of Reading)

15.30 - coffee break

16.00 - Congress to Campus

Martin Lancaster (D-NC, 1987-1995)

Tim Petri (R-WI, 1979- 2015)

Chair: Dr Alex Waddan (Leicester University)

17.00 - end

Tickets and registration for this event will be available in due course.





How Donald Trump put an end to the GOP's Southern strategy

By Laura Ellyn Smith January 10

Laura Ellyn Smith is a Ph.D. candidate and graduate instructor at the University of Mississippi, Arch Dalrymple III Department of History.

Donald Trump is tossing out the Republican Party's "Southern strategy."

The Southern strategy required the subtle art of racial coding: appealing to white Southern racism without alienating white suburbanites who recoiled at overt racial language. But time and again, President Trump has opted for the bullhorn rather than the dog whistle, regularly hurling racially loaded bromides and insults.

There's his nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, "Pocahontas," which he most recently wielded in the Oval Office during a ceremony to honor Navajo World War II veterans. Trump made the comment in the shadow of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who committed genocide against Native Americans by forcing the passage and implementation of the Indian Removal Act.

Then there was Trump's recent visit to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant invited the president on a private tour of the new museum. Civil rights leaders declined to attend the museum's opening, with Rep. John Lewis describing Trump's attendance as a "mockery." In Trump's remarks at the museum, he called Gov. Bryant - who earlier this year proclaimed April to be Confederate Heritage Month - a "great governor."

Trump's attack on political correctness - which is a term that, for him, applies as much to the GOP's coded language as to the inclusive language pioneered by the left - has profound consequences for politics that go beyond rhetoric, threatening to have an impact on policies such as immigration to the detriment of "dreamers" and race relations as a whole.

The strategy of using racially coded language is a relatively modern invention in American politics, where for much of the nation's history, overtly racial rhetoric thrived. In the antebellum era between 1820 and 1860, Southern politicians shifted from the Founding Fathers' acceptance of slavery as a "necessary evil" to actively promoting slavery as a "positive good," part of a defensive reaction to perceived threats to slavery. Throughout the antebellum era, politicians wielded horribly bigoted rhetoric against African Americans and Native Americans.

This unambiguously racialized rhetoric continued to be used by angry Southern segregationists for the next 100 years, most infamously by George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. The latter's disgust at the Democratic Party's support for civil rights legislation led him to switch parties and become a Republican. It was only once this rhetoric became a political hindrance that the transition to more coded language occurred.

During the height of the civil rights movement, the Republican Party adopted twin Southern and suburban strategies, spearheaded by Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Both strategies relied on appealing to whites who felt threatened by the civil rights movement in one way or another, but suburban voters recoiled at the overt race baiting of politicians like Wallace and Thurmond. Understanding this, Republicans developed a racially coded language that conveyed racialized messages without being blatantly racist - things like vocally opposing "forced busing" of schoolchildren rather than "school integration."

Perhaps the most memorable coded phrase was Ronald Reagan's references to the "welfare queen." He used this controversial phrase to depict single African American mothers as not only reliant on government handouts but also as determined abusers of the system, driving around in Cadillacs while the white working class struggled to make ends meet. The "welfare queen" trope served two purposes: to attack Great Society programs and to stoke racial animus.

Such racially coded rhetoric was effective at shoring up the unwillingness of many white voters to sacrifice to right past wrongs, especially for programs that appeared to aid black Americans more than white ones. This tactic created a unified base of white Republican voters across class and regional lines.

Instead of pioneering a new form of political communication, Trump is resurrecting the blatant racial rhetoric of the past. Nor is Trump alone in doing so. There's also former Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who revealed during the campaign that he believed that America was last great before the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. In fact, Trump and Moore share a use of racial rhetoric and policy: Moore's blatant references to "reds and yellows" - a reference to Native Americans and people of Asian descent - and his opposition to Muslim Americans serving in Congress are comparable to Trump's description of Mexicans as "rapists" and his desire to ban Muslims from the country.

Trump's rhetoric, combined with his support of a candidate who freely employed racial rhetoric, may become a watershed moment for the Republican Party. Republicans can no longer hide behind racially coded language: Their racial politics are now out in the open, dividing the party over whether to follow its president or follow demographic statistics that show an increasingly diverse American population.

Either way, the Southern strategy appears to be dead. Perhaps that's for the best. The country needs to reckon with the racism undergirding its politics. Trump has ensured the issue cannot be ignored.



A very special LIVE episode with host Adam Quinn and regular co-hosts Christalla Yakinthou and Scott Lucas discussing the election of Donald Trump, one year on.

This week the podcast is LIVE at Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham. Special guests Clodagh Harrington (De Montfort University) and Luca Trenta (Swansea University) join our regular panel to analyse what has changed since Donald Trump recorded a surprising victory over Hillary Clinton. Fake News, controversial turnarounds and general incompetence are all talking points this week. Our number of the week round also features alongside some detailed critiques of the Trump administration's foreign policy.

Produced by Conor McKenna in association with the University of Birmingham's Alumni Impact Fund. Find out more:…pact-fund.aspx

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Royal Holloway, University of London 

Department of Politics & International Relations

Fully funded PhD Studentship on public policy development in the Centre of International Public Policy at Royal Holloway, University of London


The Centre of International Public Policy (CIPP) is a world leading academic research centre based within the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. We are currently offering a fully-funded PhD Studentship for three years from September 2018. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Ursula Hackett and Prof Andreas Goldthau and will sit within and be supported by CIPP. He or she will benefit from our wide-ranging expertise in political science, international political economy, and public policy, and will be expected to become part of our research community.

We invite applicants to submit a 2000 word proposal within the field of public policy making in the US, UK or other advanced democracies. Rising polarization, citizen alienation and the growth of privatized forms of governance and regulation animate the study of the design and transformation of public policies on the national and transnational level. Questions a PhD project could address may include:

? Under what conditions do public policies pass or fail?

? How do the coalitions advancing policies form and do they differ significantly across different policy areas?

? Why and how are policies transformed over time?

? What role do policy regimes play in this context?

Proposals may examine policy structure or compare policymaking procedures across several policy domains. Comparative proposals are welcomed though not required. Proposals may be qualitative or quantitative in nature with a preference for mixed-methods design.

Applicants should have a background in political science, public policy or a closely related discipline.


? Applicants should have completed a Master's degree (or equivalent from a university outside the United Kingdom) in a relevant subject by the start date.

Funding Details:

? Starts September 2018 (with the possibility of a January 2019 start date)

? Three-year award

? HEU fee waiver worth approximately £4,195 and maintenance of approximately £16,553 p.a. (2017-18 figures; 2018-19 figures to be confirmed).

? Access to departmental research and training allowance.

How to apply:

To apply for this studentship please email Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau ( including:

(a) A brief cover letter outlining why you are applying for the Public Policy Development Studentship.

(b) A proposal (max 2000 words) outlining the project and how it relates to public policymaking. Include research question, context, methodology, and proposed thesis structure and timeline.

(c) A curriculum vitae.

(d) Contact details (email and postal addresses) for two academic referees.

Please provide your referees with a copy of your research proposal so that they are able to comment specifically on your suitability to pursue the course of study you have described.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed.

Application Deadline:

1 st December 2017

Further Enquiries:

Ursula Hackett ( and Andreas Goldthau (




Candidate Trump attacked Obama's executive orders. President Trump loves executive orders

By Andrew Rudalevige

As he campaigned for the presidency, Donald Trump argued that Barack Obama's frequent use of unilateral administrative tools made Obama a weak leader. "We have a president that can't get anything done," Trump told an interviewer in January 2016, "so he just keeps signing executive orders all over the place."

That spring he added,

I want to not use too many executive orders, folks. … Obama, because he couldn't get anybody to agree with him, he starts signing them like they're butter. So I want to do away with executive orders for the most part.

Fast forward to a White House news release marking President Trump's first 100 days in office. It claimed that Trump had "accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt." The proof? He had signed more executive orders in that period than any of Roosevelt's other successors.

[Most of Trump's executive orders aren't actually executive orders. Here's why that matters.]

And while Republicans fiercely criticized Obama for pledging to use his "pen and his phone" to get around legislative gridlock, this week - using his phone - Trump touted his pen. The president tweeted: 'Since Congress can't get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people - FAST'

Indeed, last week gave us many examples of President Trump's wallow in the buttery goodness known as "the administrative presidency." Atop the executive order promising great health care came a directive to cease cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies as well as new rules allowing more entities to opt out of providing contraception coverage for their employees; these followed numerous prior HHS efforts to undercut Affordable Care Act markets. And the week's directives went far beyond the ACA, ranging from the treatment of transgender people to environmental regulations to the international agreement aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear program.

In light of Trump's past pronouncements, it is tempting to simply shout "Hypocrisy!" and move on. It is certainly telling that Trump's turn to unilateralism, unlike his predecessors', comes when both chambers of Congress are run by his own party. Using executive orders as a substitute for legislation is far more common in divided government.

But in fact presidents of all parties, policy preferences and personality types have strong institutional incentives to embrace administrative tactics. As Richard Nathan wrote nearly 35 years ago, "in a complex, technologically complex society in which the role of government is pervasive, much of what we would define as policy-making is done through the execution of laws in the management process." So presidents have developed a wide range of tools to execute those laws, well beyond executive orders themselves. Further, partisan polarization and divided government makes new legislation harder to obtain.

Thus, presidents have both opportunity and motive to seek unilateral solutions to policy problems. As George W. Bush put it in 2004, 'I got a little frustrated in Washington because I couldn't get the bill passed out of the Congress. They were arguing process. … Congress wouldn't act, so I signed an executive order - that means I did it on my own.'

Doing it "on my own" - and doing it fast, even "FAST" - is very tempting to presidents of all stripes.

But some executive action can evaporate with the next executive - or be challenged in the courts

But even as Trump's directives shape policy implementation, they also show the potential fragility of administrative action. As Peter Baker recently noted, Trump's use of executive power has often been directed at undoing President Obama's.

The ease of that undoing varies by the kind of action. Regulations can only be rescinded when an agency can make a strong substantive case for doing so, meaning that while announcing the end of Obama's Clean Power Plan is easy, actually repealing or replacing it will take time and sustained effort.

By contrast, executive orders can be reversed by subsequent executive orders - for instance, in shifting the rules for government contracting. And where statutes have been interpreted to yield certain policy results, they can be reinterpreted to yield others. The latest Trump executive order on the Affordable Care Act, encouraging federal agencies to expand insurance options not subject to ACA requirements, may run up againststatutory language limiting their ability to do as much as promised. Any resulting rules changes will almost certainly wind up in court.

Indeed, Trump claimed illegality as the reason he reversed both the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and halted CSR payments. His September statement on DACA emphasized its threat to "the core tenets that sustain our Republic," claiming that "virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional." And the Justice Department delivered a legal opinionstating that CSR payments could not be made because they had not been appropriated by Congress.

The Trump administration's reading of the law might well be correct in these cases; the CSR opinion, notably, is buttressed by a 2016 federal district court decision. It's worth noting, though, that no small number of "top legal experts" have in fact taken opposite positions on both matters. The district court's CSR ruling was under appeal - and in other cases President Trump has certainly not treated the rulings of individual judges as sacrosanct. Nor has he renounced aggressive interpretations of statute in other arenas. As usual, what counts as "faithful" execution of the law is at least in part a function of competing policy preferences.

And that means it's not just presidents who like the use of executive power. Others gladly encourage it, so long as it serves their own policy goals. As the DACA and CSR debates indicate, for instance, many in Congress are happy with the substance of such policies - and also happy to avoid accountability for supporting them.

The upshot is that Trump's new love of executive action has managed mostly to put legislators on the spot. This is ironic, but not inappropriate: It is indeed Congress's responsibility to resolve statutory ambiguity and define the boundaries of executive discretion. This is a job legislators have long shirked - but as they do so, they might find their institutional prerogatives melting away. Like butter.

Andrew Rudalevige is Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College. He specializes in the study of American political institutions, primarily the presidency and the interbranch relations, with a recent focus on presidential management of the executive branch.


Five ways Donald Trump is rolling back the

Obama years - or trying to


In the absence of any clear ideology associated with Donald Trump's US presidency, it does seem he has at least one obvious priority that transcends the hype and spin: he is determined to undo his predecessor's legacy.

Trump's efforts to "repeal and replace" have had mixed success, just as Obama's efforts to build that legacy in the first place were stymied by the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Obama did push executive branch authority to its limits - most notably when it came to the diplomatic thaw with Cuba - but relying on administrative powers to bring about change was a second-best way of building a robust legacy.

Eight months into his term, Trump has added no major legislative achievements to his name, but he too has used executive powers to chip away at the achievements of his predecessor. Here are some examples of where his administration has tried to roll things back so far.


As a candidate Trump broke with conservative orthodoxy on some key social policy issues, notably in his support for the government-run Medicare and social security programmes. But he joined with Republicans to vociferously denounce Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare".

Through 2017 congressional Republicans advanced various proposals and the House passed the American HealthCare Act in May, only for this bill to die a death in the Senate. The GOP's narrow 52-48 majority means there is little room for internal party dissent, giving some voice to the few remaining moderates. The final week in September brought the year's last-ditch effort at repeal, since the Senate's arcane rules dictate that the use of the "reconciliation" process, which would preclude any Democratic filibuster of reform, ended on September 30.

Trade and tarriffs

Trump has consistently attacked trade deals that he claims are bad for American workers. Through the campaign he lambasted the North American Free Trade Agreement, which dates back to the George H W Bush and Clinton presidencies, and suggested that the US might impose significant new tariffs on Chinese imports. He was also scornful of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a deal the Obama administration had negotiated with 11 other countries and which encompasses almost 40% of the world's economy. Here Trump promptly fulfilled his promise and withdrew the US from the agreement, which had yet to come into effect. Regarding other deals while Trump's rhetoric remained fiery, he has mainly instructed that they be reviewed rather than revoked.

Funding family planning overseas

On his first day in office Trump signed a memorandum reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, which prevents federal funding from going to NGOs that perform or promote abortion as a means for family planning as part of their work. In May, Trump had announced that it would expand the range of activities that would be prohibited under what critics call the "global gag" rule. The US would save around US$500m a year and Trump scores a win with his socially conservative base, while the number of abortions carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa and other areas is likely to rise, rather than fall. While the funding ban does not affect American women directly, it sends a clear message to them that their president is sympathetic to those who oppose female reproductive autonomy.

Transgender Americans in the armed forces

In August 2017 the president reinstated a ban on transgender recruits signing up to the US Army, and a ban on the military paying for any related medical expenses or surgery. Responsibility for the decisions on what to do regarding the thousands of currently serving transgender army members was left to the generals.

Again, this presidential memo was a direct reaction to an Obama-era initiative. It remains a political flashpoint, and as of September 2017 a six-month delay in implementation has been put in place. Those in favour of the ban decry the notion of the army being used as a forum for "social experiment" while others argue that a person's qualification and suitability for military service should be the only criteria that matters. Chelsea Manning responded to the ban by stating that the armed forces "have always been a social experiment just as much as a fighting force".

Gun rights

Speaking to the BBC in the summer of 2015, President Obama noted that his biggest regret as president was the failure to make any headway on gun control. In truth it was only after the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 primary school children and their six teachers were gunned down, that he made the issue a top priority. Despite sustained efforts to get Congress on board, his efforts were fruitless, and he was forced to resort to executive action in January 2016. This had symbolic and some substantial value, and if nothing else demonstrated he was prepared to take on the gun lobby. Trump, on the other hand, embraced the gun lobby as a candidate, which rewarded him by donating US$30m to his campaign. That investment began to pay off when President Trump, on February 28 2017, signed a bill that undid one of Obama's measures to strengthen background checks.

Even in the aftermath of Las Vegas, the biggest mass shooting in modern America, little is likely to change. With 59 dead and hundreds injured, there might seem an opening for political dialogue on the widespread access to weapons of war, but opponents of more regulation will protest against "politicising the issue". Trump and the Republican party will remain wedded to a culture promoting gun rights, emphatically reinforced by power of the National Rifle Association. Presidential thoughts and prayers, rather than actions, will have to suffice.




We are thrilled to announce the winner of the APG 2017 Richard E Neustadt book prize is Dr Mark Shanahan (Reading University) Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age: Sputniks, Rockets and Helping Hands (Lexington Books, 2017) We very much look forward to congratulating Mark in person at the APG colloquium on November 10 where he will receive plaudits and a cheque!

'Eisenhower at the Dawn of the Space Age' is a fine and original work focusing on the space politics of the Eisenhower administration. Shanahan creates a subtle and nuanced portrait of Eisenhower as policymaker, suggesting Eisenhower was both more consistent in his space policy and more capable of driving the agenda than previous work has suggested. In doing so, he expands on the existing school of Eisenhower revisionism.However the implications of the book extend beyond that, it suggests. the existence at the helm of the nascent space institutions of a close-knit policy community which had developed its own consensus. This consensus, Shanahan argues, proved remarkably resilient to outside pressure, initially even being continued under Kennedy. Shanhan also strongly suggests space policy under Eisenhower was better thought out, more thoughtful and constructive than was its successor under Kennedy. This is a seminal work that would be consulted by scholars of both the Eisenhower administration and Space policy for years to come.'



PSA Annual International Conference 2018 - Call for Papers and Panel Proposals

Cardiff City Hall

26 - 28 March 2018 #PSA18






Walking Dead: The Republican Effort to Repeal Obamacare

By Alex Waddan and Daniel Béland 


Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare, had been a mantra of Republicans ever since its passage in March 2010. The Tea Party drew much of its energy from its opposition to the ACA and Republican candidates had reiterated their commitment to undoing the law in each subsequent election cycle. This paid dividends for the party in the 2010 mid-term elections, but the re-election of President Obama in 2012 seemed to ensure that the ACA would continue its rollout, which was always scheduled to be a prolonged process, as he would be able to block efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal the law. Nevertheless, continuing, and effective, Republican opposition to the ACA was illustrated by efforts to obstruct implementation at the state level; for example, at the start of 2017, 19 states still refused extra federal funding to expand their Medicaid programmes to cover low-income, uninsured Americans. This level of resistance to Medicaid expansion, which generally occurs in Republican-controlled states, was made possible by a June 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld most components of the ACA but forbid the federal government to punish states that refused to expand the programme. Furthermore, in January 2016, Obama was forced to use the presidential veto to block a bill passed by the Republican controlled chambers of Congress that would have repealed large parts of the ACA.

The 2016 presidential election cycle demonstrated once again that promising to "repeal Obamacare" was catnip to Republican candidates and the party's base. And, although candidate Trump did break with some aspects of conservative orthodoxy when promising that he would not cut the Medicare or Social Security programmes, he was fully onboard with the anti-ACA rhetoric. Thus, Trump's unexpected victory in November 2016 meant that Republicans, enjoying unified government in Washington DC as they now controlled the White House and both the House and the Senate, could now fulfill their longstanding promise. Doing so, however, turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated.

In early May 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act. This occurred after an abbreviated, yet still tortuous, process, with the initial proposals withdrawn from consideration ahead of a floor vote due to opposition from all Democrats, but more decisively by moderate Republicans and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus. Eventually the last group were satisfied by changes to the bill meaning that the AHCA garnered sufficient support to pass the House. That was followed by a rather presumptive White House ceremony, of the sort normally reserved for when a President actually gets to sign a bill passed by both House and Senate. Expectations were high that such a moment would come, but ominously for Republicans, while AHCA did repeal important parts of the ACA, few thought that it was a coherent model for reform and the hope was that Senate would put together a more comprehensible package.

Republican Senate leaders, in their desire to craft a bill quickly, chose to bypass so-called "regular order", thereby significantly truncating the legislative process and relying on a Republican only taskforce to develop a bill. They also chose to push the bill through the "reconciliation" process, thus negating the possibility of a filibuster, meaning that they would need only 50 votes since they could rely on the casting vote of Vice President Pence. Yet, even after tilting the playing field, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, renowned for his party management, could not muster enough votes. The final blow came when, in late July 2017, the Senate voted down so-called "skinny repeal". Few thought this a satisfactory way forward, but it was advanced by the leadership on the same, kicking the can down the road, logic used to justify the passage of the AHCA in the House. Only this time a House - Senate Conference Committee was expected to come up with a coherent plan to save the day. In the end, just over six months into Trump's presidency, the Senate repeal effort failed.

Although the debate on the future of the ACA is by no means over, this recent failure leads to an obvious question: why, after seven years of deriding Obamacare, were Republicans unable to undo the law when in an institutional position to do so? A cynic might suggest that they never expected to have to fulfill their promise, especially as the 2016 campaign unfolded and the prospect of a Trump presidency seemed remote, leaving them confounded when faced with delivering on their rhetoric. Yet, there were plans in the conservative eco-system on how to move forward on health care reform, so unpreparedness is not a sufficient explanation. It is the case, however, that the party had never come together over any particular plan, reflecting how the US health care system is extraordinarily complex, a fact that President Trump discovered, apparently to his, though no-one else's, surprise.

In this context, while the ACA was consistently underwater in polling during Obama's presidency, the law did have features that were popular, and Republican lawmakers struggled with crafting plans that would keep those legacies in place, but simultaneously repeal other parts of the ACA that effectively supported them. In particular, Republicans committed themselves to maintaining the ACA's principle that individuals with pre-existing conditions should have access to affordable health insurance. The reality that this principle required spreading the cost of risk to healthy people, however, proved problematic when Republicans were also promising to reduce the insurance premiums for the healthy. More generally, as the ACA had been implemented, the numbers of uninsured Americans had dropped considerably. The manner in which that drop was largely attributable to the ACA became ever more apparent as each of the Republican plans put forward in Congress were scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as likely to leave over 20 million more Americans uninsured.

Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the ever present difficulty of getting any major reform through the US legislative maze, even when one party controls both Congress and occupies the White House. In 2017, the Republicans stumbled in the Senate where they had only a 52-48 majority. McConnell made no effort to reach out to Democrats, which put a premium on his ability to corral his caucus. Yet, while the well-documented trend of partisan polarization in the US had seen the Republicans become a considerably more conservative force, there turned out to remain some moderate Republican voices in Congress worried about the consequences of taking insurance away from millions of Americans. On the final vote on skinny repeal, most of the attention focused on Senator John McCain from Arizona, returning to the Senate after a diagnosis of a severe form of brain cancer, and his vote against. In fact, the more consistent voices of opposition to the leadership had come from Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Finally, it is worth reflecting on the role of President Trump. He had promised prompt repeal of the ACA upon taking office, and his frustration was clear in the summer as he lashed out as the congressional efforts stalled, including a side swipe at McCain in an extraordinary August 15 impromptu press conference on the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which he apparently equated Nazis and KKK supporters with those protesting against them. Yet for all the presidential bluster, it was very clear that Trump had minimal grasp of the policy detail, which undermined his capacity to make a public case for why Republican plans for reform were a good idea and diminished his ability to sway the likes of Collins and Murkowski.

From a Republican perspective, one distinctly unintended consequence of their actions was to boost the popularity of the ACA. Yet, supporters of the ACA should remain wary. First, the Republican reform effort may look like the walking dead, but zombies can do harm to the living. To switch monster analogies, it maybe that Republicans try again to build a Frankenstein repeal bill if they make the calculation that it is more politically damaging to break their seven year promise than to enact something that might be very unpopular. Second, the ACA, particularly with regard to functioning of the individual insurance markets, needs the federal and state governments to take a pro-active role in encouraging households to enroll and pressuring insurers to offer plans where returns are likely to be low. Trump has regularly declared that he is happy for the ACA to implode and for Democrats to take the blame. As it is, he is likely both underestimating the resilience of the law and misjudging the political fall-out should people become even more disgruntled with their health care. But politics, bravado, and bluster aside, the administration does have the capacity to undermine the implementation of the law and leave many more Americans exposed to both economic and health risk should they need medical care.

Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. Alex Waddan is an Associate Professor in American politics at the University of Leicester.