The battle between Reps. Jim Clyburn and Steny Hoyer for the number two spot in the House Democratic minority is a microcosm of the debate that is currently ripping through the Democratic Party.
It might be broadly described as a battle between liberals and centrists, but in truth, it is a question of inclusiveness and direction for a party that is suffering with serious branding problems.
Republicans were shocked and then thrilled to learn that Nancy Pelosi would like to stay on as the Democratic leader. Pelosi may be the least popular political figure in America today with disapproval ratings above 60 percent -- talk about branding problems.
After the pummeling of one week ago, Democrats are turning on each other looking to assign blame.
Some, like Sen. Evan Bayh, have openly questioned the wisdom of the Obama agenda itself, bemoaning a lack of focus on the economy and jobs in favor of the president's health care gambit.
But for most Democrats, there is little debate over the policies, but instead conflict over why Americans rejected them so harshly.
The reduced Democratic presence in Washington is more liberal because it was the Blue Dogs who got beat. Just look at the new House map. It is an ocean of red with urban islands of blue. Only a few rural Democrats - mostly from majority black districts in the South and liberal locations in places like New England and Minnesota - remain. And in the suburbs, the toll was almost as bad.
Witness the fight between Clyburn and Hoyer. Both are supporters of the health care law. Both are supportive of Speaker Pelosi's bid to hold power inside her caucus.
The debate between the more moderate Hoyer and the more liberal Clyburn is whether or not the events of the past two years were the start of a new era in America, or a rare moment of accomplishment for the left in a center-right nation, a moment which will now require decades of defense.
Hoyer offers the latter view, and a promise to help soften sentiment against the Democrat in the remaining swing districts held by the party and to be a truly national organization. Clyburn, meanwhile, joins Pelosi in heralding a triumphant return for Democrats in two years after an aberrant defeat caused primarily by high unemployment.
Much of the blame among Democrats is being trained on President Obama's political operation. The line offered by DNC member Robert Zimmerman "couldn't sell cocaine to Charlie Sheen" may tend to hang around the president's neck for some weeks to come.
Obama has addressed the concern several times, saying that he was too focused on policy and not enough on politics, offering, essentially, the Michael Scott defense: "Did I have a weakness? It was that I tried too hard. Did I make a mistake? Probably caring too much."
Team Obama is now well down the path to a 2012 run. Today, David Axelrod is quoted by Politico saying that he expects liberal outside interest groups to match conservative expenditures against Obama of at least $500 million.
The president's campaign treats the millions spent by the right this year as justification for whatever activities are necessary within the law to win in 2012.
The implicit message is that Democrats will rally to a president under assault by Republicans. And if that's what the administration is counting on, they can be expected to do nothing to dampen liberal support. And that means ditching talk of compromise.
When the president says he's open to "tweaking" his health care law, for example, we should expect very little twists indeed.
The new, smaller, more liberal Democratic Party would not likely tolerate anything more.
Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, Heidi Noonan, Varuna Bhatia, Nikoletta Gjoni, and Paige Dukeman
The Day in Quotes
"I am at peace. I was honored to serve the country. I gave it my all. I'm not desperate to try to shape a legacy, because I fully understand that there needs to be time for history to be able to analyze -- for historians to be able to analyze the decisions I made."
-- Former President George W. Bush to Sean Hannity in an interview to air tonight.
"I wish he would. He has to run first. And he has made it clear he is not running in 2012. And when the man says, 'I'm not running,' he means it. I wish he would run."
-- Former President George W. Bush to Sean Hannity in an interview to air tonight discussing calls for his brother, Jeb, to run for president.
"One of the high-valued al Qaeda operators was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: chief operating officer of al Qaeda, ordered the attack on 9/11. And they said, ‘He's got information.' I said, ‘Find out what he knows.' And so I said to our team, ‘Are the techniques legal?' And a legal team says, ‘Yes, they are.' And I said, ‘Use them.'"
-Former President George W. Bush in an interview with NBC on his decision to allow Mohammed to be waterboarded.
"Well, first of all, it was the worst time of my presidency period. And the reason why is because I thought we were about to lose in Iraq."
-- Former President George W. Bush discussing the summer of 2006 in an interview with NBC.
"The Senate would be Republican today except for states (in which Palin endorsed candidates) like Christine O'Donnell in Delaware," Bachus said. "Sarah Palin cost us control of the Senate." -
-- Rep. Spencer Baucus (R-AL) to the Shelby County Reporter
"[The White House] couldn't sell cocaine to Charlie Sheen."
- DNC Committeeman Robert Zimmerman quoted by the Huffington Post at a panel discussion on the Midterm elections.
"I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks."
Incoming head of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) to Politico.
"Boy who runs like a duck."
-- President Obama's boyhood nickname in Indonesia, according to former neighbor Djumiati Satjakoesoemah, as quoted by the New York Times.
"If they were calling Abraham Lincoln a baboon, they certainly could call me worse, because he was a great president."
-- Former President George W. Bush to USA Today on the value of reading history.
"The German finance minister called the Fed's proposals ‘clueless.' When Germany, a country that knows a thing or two about the dangers of inflation, warns us to think again, maybe it's time for Chairman Bernanke to cease and desist."
-- Sarah Palin in a speech at the Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association national trade show in Phoenix, according to prepared remarks provided to National Review.
"The greatest danger that threatens us is protectionism, and we are still not taking enough steps to ensure genuinely free trade. There is something we can do that does not cost us much, and does not create any new debts..."
-- German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an interview with the Financial Times ahead of Thursday's G20 meeting in Seoul chiding American efforts to set trade rates between nations.
"If you look at American TV as much of the rest of the world does, you would think we all went around wrestling and wearing bikinis."
-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview on Australian radio.
"What they need is what Ms. Pelosi has been unable to provide: a clear and convincing voice to help Americans understand that Democratic policies are not bankrupting the country, advancing socialism or destroying freedom."
-- New York Times Editorial Page
"Well, I think that's about the fact that they don't want me in this job, to put it rather bluntly. That has been a concerted effort since I got the job."
-- Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to NPR discussing remarks by Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour that the RNCs weak fundraising left other GOP groups to "scramble around."
"One size does not fit all, unless you're talking tube socks."
-- Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) slamming the health care plans of both President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in an interview with Politico.
"My hope is that the president comes more to the center, and starts to govern and lead like President Clinton did to try to tackle the very real issues."
-- Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) in a lecture at the University of Louisville.
And Now, A Word from Charles
"The fact is if you don't have earmarks you won't actually save money. Money will be appropriated, but the decision as to where the money goes is done by bureaucrat in a Democratic administration."
-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."
Obama's Day (and Night)
President Obama is in Indonesia today, a twice-delayed visit to the country where he lived from 1967 to 1971 as a boy known as Barry Sotero.
Indonesia is twelve hours ahead of Washington, so the president and first lady have already arrived in Jakarta, now the capital of the world's fourth most populous nation (243 million inhabitants) and the nation with the world's largest Muslim population (203 million Muslims according to a Pew study).
Today, Obama will have the official portion of his visit - a bilateral meeting and press conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and then a state dinner at the presidential palace.
Obama is scheduled for another address to the Muslim world on Wednesday, but his plans are, ahem, clouded. A large cloud of volcanic ash from a recent eruption may force the presidential caravan to leave early for Seoul, where Obama will attend a G20 trade meeting.
Vice President Biden is meeting today with former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is playing an increasingly important role in the administration's foreign policy and national security apparatus.
The chances of Hagel playing an official role - like perhaps secretary of Defense - seems to be on the rise. Hagel has renounced even his tepid Republicanism of the past, so an appointment wouldn't draw much water on the right. But the press loves the "iconoclastic" former senator and would give Obama big bipartisan points for such a pick.
House GOP Looking for a Way Around Bachmann?
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) wants to be the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, arguing that she can be a "bridge" to the Tea Party and establish credibility for the leadership with the largest Republican freshman class in more than 60 years.
But Bachmann is also prone to controversy and her cable news sparring sessions with Chris Matthews would bring headaches Republican leaders would like to avoid.
Leaders may have a more direct path to spanning the Tea Party gap in mind. FOX News has learned that the Republican transition office has tapped incoming Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) to fill a new leadership spot. Noem's position would be subsequently filled by election among freshmen Republicans. But leaders picking Noem to be part of the transition team says a lot - she's young (38) and a favorite of the Tea Party movement, which helped her unseat Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.
While Bachmann and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) will fight it out next week to see who will lead the House Republican Caucus, Noem may be helping John Boehner's team make the kind of connections with the freshman class they'll need to govern.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.