Five Fearless Predictions for 2011

In Washington, 2011 is opening with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Things are going to be different than 2010, but we can't be sure exactly how.

In this moment of uncertainty, I can offer five sure things for 2011.

Media Steeped in Tea

Some of the very same reporters and commentators who spent much of 2010 pondering whether the members of the Tea Party movement were racists, corporate-backed phonies or militia nuts will find a strange new respect for the small-government enthusiasts.

It's won't be because the New York Times will suddenly be taken by the spirit of the Founding Fathers but for the same reason that conservatives so often find mainstream acceptance: for criticizing Republicans. As Tea Party activists complain about wishy-washiness of Republicans in Congress in 2011, they will find the doors to the media establishment thrown open to them.

It might be hypocritical for pressies who once discerned dark motives in the movement to suddenly be trumpeting its message, but that won't make it any less dangerous to Republicans looking to keep their base on board.

A Republican in the White House

As President Obama looks to recover his standing with disenchanted moderates and independents, look for him to find a GOPer to bring into his administration.

Obama appointed four Republicans to top jobs in his first three years.

He tapped Sen. Judd Gregg to head the Commerce Department, but Gregg walked away citing policy disagreements. Obama made former Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood secretary of Transportation, but LaHood's limited portfolio has kept him out of view. Obama also chose New York Rep. John McHugh secretary of the Army, another job with a low public profile. Obama sent Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to China as ambassador, but the faraway posting did little to burnish Obama's reputation for bipartisanship.

As he continues his pivot to the center in the run up to 2012, Obama will need to show that there are Republicans with whom he can work.

Many have put forward former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, an apostate Republican, as a replacement for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, expected to retire sometime in 2011.

Hagel is widely reviled on the right and had bitter disagreements with his fellow Senate Republicans, so it wouldn't do much in the way of bridge building. And since Hagel endorsed him in 2008, Obama wouldn't be seen as stretching very far. Plus, Hagel is famously headstrong and not known as a team player.

Other potential candidates would have to include Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe. Snowe faces reelection in 2012 and will surely suffer the wrath of conservative Mainers for supporting key parts of the Obama agenda. Plus, with her in his cabinet, Obama would enhance the chances of Democrats picking up her Senate seat.

Dems Break Away on Afghanistan

While President Obama has a large coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats behind his Afghan war effort, he is on the brink of losing the mainstream of his party on the conflict.

The nation-building effort showed modest progress in 2010, but has also been beset by rising violence and weak allies. A series of reports on corruption in the Karzai government in Kabul and the instability of key ally Pakistan have reinforced Democratic doubts about the Obama surge strategy.

America's main ally in the effort, Britain, has will soon be reducing its presence and the aid from other NATO allies will similarly shrink as brutal austerity measures take hold on the continent. Europeans won't accept cuts to social programs and continued spending on the American-led war.

With tough going ahead and an increased share of the financial burden, liberals in Congress will increasingly buck Obama on his central foreign policy initiative. It's not likely to lead to Congress defunding the war, but it will further fracture Democrats. In fact, with Republicans at the helm in the House, the consequences of opposition will be lower and Democrats will have a freer hand to attack the war and Obama's strategy.

This division will complicate Obama's other efforts that will require Democratic support, including a possible deal with Republicans on tax simplification and entitlement cuts. It will also tend to dampen the hopes for change among the president's political base, much of which was drawn to him for his opposition to the Iraq war and Bush surge there.

Energy Back to the Fore

One of the consolations of a lousy economy has been low energy prices, but as a weak dawn of recovery breaks across the land, that comfort is disappearing.

Big demand for energy in fast-growing nations like China and Russia is driving up costs around the world, as are new regulations from the Obama administration, particularly on the coal industry.

Add to that increased domestic demand and you have the recipe for sky-high prices.

Economists worry that the energy spike, particularly if coupled with inflation in other areas, could kill off the tenuous recovery. But the politics will be interesting, no matter what.

On one hand, higher prices will strengthen Democratic arguments for energy alternatives. But they will also strengthen Republican arguments against any limits on existing sources, particularly President Obama's hard line on offshore oil exploration and new coal mining permits.

A Sordid Sex Scandal

Why should this year be any different than any other in Washington?

Happy New Year.

Chris Stirewalt is FOX News' digital politics editor. His political note, Power Play, is available every weekday morning at FOXNEWS.COM.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.