Power Play

Obama Has Romney to Lunch, Republicans for Lunch

“I think there is a tradition here, and I think that it is one of the often-overlooked but remarkable things about this democracy, this oldest democracy, is that we have -- we consistently have elections … without violence and without the kind of anguish and disruptions that you see in so many other countries around the world, and you’ve seen throughout history.”

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney explaining President Obama’s motives for inviting Mitt Romney over for lunch.

President Obama is having lunch with Mitt Romney today in a show of what the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said was the continuing tradition of peaceful transfers of power in the United States.

But it seems rather unlikely that Romney would have taken up arms against Obama, having conceded and everything. Though Power Play would have enjoyed covering what would have been called The Bain Rebellion, with private equity-bought tanks and uniforms designed by Stuart Stevens to appeal to middle-class Hispanic women.

The real issue in Washington isn’t whether Obama will retain power without crushing an insurrection but whether having been returned to power, the president can find a way to do business with the Republicans, also returned to power. The answer from Obama today: Maybe later.

Today’s lunch might have been a sign of new bipartisan comity, but it is instead a celebration of the fact that there won’t be a rebellion. Talk about your lowered expectations.

More On This...

Democrats are feeling pugnacious right now, reevaluating the election and deciding that maybe they did get a mandate after all. Obama won by 3 points – a larger majority than most were expecting, and Senate Democrats rather unexpectedly enlarged their majority.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the Obama Democrats felt like they had dodged a bullet. Now they are feeling more like conquerors than survivors. In the shadow of the split-decision election, Democrats and the president were all talking about compromise, but now they are talking about reaping the spoils of their victory.

The net effect for you, dear readers, is this: your taxes are increasingly likely to rise.

What many assumed would happen in the aftermath of the election and with jittery markets eyeing the overstuffed lame-duck session in Congress was that Obama and lawmakers would retreat into the inky depths of a “grand bargain” that would allow both sides to claim some share of victory and produce a product so indecipherable that liberal and conservative activists alike would have trouble summoning real outrage.

Politicians, when pressed, usually retreat into complexity. It is their safe haven from the electorate.

But as the anxiety of the election fades, the president is trying to simplify things – to pick a fight, rather than avoid one. Rather than allowing Republicans to have people pay more in taxes but not have to vote for a tax increase, Obama is demanding that the vanquished party submit and call a tax hike a tax hike.

He promises graciousness and compromise later on, but, as he made clear in his campaign-style event on Wednesday, the Republicans first have to allow tax rates to rise on top earners. Like naughty children, they must admit their wrongdoing and accept their punishment before playtime can begin again.

Obama is trying to not only teach Republicans a lesson but also, he hopes, break their resolve heading into the next round of the endless battles over spending, entitlements and taxes. And since these battles will continue as long as the country has a weak economy and massive debts, which is to say, the foreseeable future, Obama is keen to have the strongest hand possible.

While Obama acknowledges that lower taxes stimulate growth, he believes that income inequality is a moral ill that plagues the nation.

Republicans are playing a numbers game on government revenue, trying to leverage out-year growth and spending estimates to come up with something that looks like a plausible plan for now. Obama wants them to accept a tax rate increase not because it is key to the deficit, but because he wants Republicans to admit defeat on the issue that has animated their party since the mid-1990s.

The GOP freak-out has already begun, with Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma calling for Republicans to accept Obama’s punishment and move on to other things.  Cole is right that the longer Republicans resist Obama’s daily calls for the tax hike, the greater the pressure will become and the deeper public frustration over the impasse will be.

But that’s not the way human beings, especially in politics, operate. Every day that Obama goes out and tells Republicans to take their whippings, resentments and anger will deepen within the party. That’s what Obama is counting on. He’s hoping that he gets to make a televised plea on New Year’s Eve: “Please prevent this tax hike Republicans, before it’s too late.”

The Democratic bet is that having thoroughly panicked the nation, the president will be in much better position to extract huge concessions from the GOP, by then desperate for a deal of any kind. Then they will not only have deepened public resentment for the Red Team but also kicked off a destructive round of primary challenges for 2014.

Republicans had hoped to avoid this by coming to the table with concessions in mind. But Obama doesn’t want to avoid the fight, he wants to have it out so that he can win.


And Now, A Word From Charles

“The Republicans stood for one thing consistently.  It's held them together ideologically and generally, it's helped them electorally. They are the low-tax party. The other guys want to tax to match their reckless spending.  If [the Republicans] give it up now in return for nothing, Obama wins and he wins big.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.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.