Published September 30, 2013
It seems that President Obama has more allies on the Hill than we thought. But they’re not who you’d expect.
The Republicans and Ted Cruz have become President Obama’s greatest ally. Their latest gambit appears to have failed and there will be a government shutdown. Nothing has gone to plan.
The president’s approval is down to 43 percent with 50 percent of Americans disapproving of his performance. There is a palatable sense that he is not providing the leadership and guidance the American people – and indeed Congress – need and want to see from their president.
And the negative ratings don’t stop with the president’s approval figures. Gallup’s economic confidence index is at -22. Forty-nine percent of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling foreign policy, a new high as he confronts a diplomatic opening with Iran and efforts to remove chemical weapons from Syria.
It follows that the only thing that is helping Obama is Republican intransigence on the budget and the debt ceiling. This will almost certainly, if my experience in 1995 and 1996 advising Bill Clinton is any guide, lead to Republicans – and not the president – being blamed for the dysfunction and paralysis that we are seeing in Washington today.
Indeed, the Republicans are on track to hold the House in 2014. And they have a chance to potentially win the Senate. But with new record low approval ratings – 21 percent approve of the way Republicans are handling their jobs in Congress as compared to 73 percent disapproval – and a divided Republican party that is incoherent at best, the Republicans could spend another term on the back foot, fighting battles with partisan attacks and little compromise.
To be sure, it is not as though the American public want to keep ObamaCare – they don’t. Thirty-nine percent approve of the health care law with 51 percent opposing it. And it’s not that they wouldn’t support the idea of delaying the individual mandate for a year – they would.
But by tying it to the functioning of the government, and then ultimately the debt ceiling, it will be clear, if it isn’t already, that the Republicans will be held solely responsible for instability in the financial markets, paralysis in Washington and an absolute absence of any positive ideas going forward.
This is why President Obama is going to continue with his game plan. And he should. He knows he has a winning hand.
Even at a time when he looks weak on foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis Syria after Putin got all the credit for the diplomatic solution, and on the economy after tepid growth over his entire tenure, the Mr. Obama comes off as the voice of reason against a backdrop of irrational, partisan Republicans.
In light of this, it is clear that only by demonizing the Republican party will the president win a political fight that he was otherwise destined to lose.