Republicans Resist Reality in the Age of Obama
“So let's let those [tax rates on top earners] go up. And then let's set up a process with a time certain, at the end of 2013 or the fall of 2013, where we work on tax reform…”
-- President Obama in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
Republicans can learn a lot about dealing with Barack Obama in the current fiscal negotiations from how Obama conducted his re-election campaign.
Obama ran an audaciously negative campaign with the intention of winning a base-versus-base election with superior resources and organization. And he did exactly that. Obama worked to shrink the electorate by driving squeamish moderates and independents out of the pool and then won the partisan grudge match among those who remained.
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Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in the spring and most of the summer was a riff on Bob Dole’s 1996 lament: “Where is the outrage?”
Romney demanded that the press and public hold Obama accountable for running a small, grinding and negative campaign based mostly on character assassination. Where’s the Hope and Change? Where’s the vision?
What he found was that the public has such low expectations for politics and politicians that Obama was able to surmount the barely-there bar for public discourse. And as for the press, while Romney’s frustrations would occasionally elicit some high-minded regret from the media establishment, it was quickly excused as necessary, given the aforementioned rottenness of political life.
Sometimes, Obama’s tactics and personal disdain for Romney were even recounted admiringly as evidence of a fierce competitive spirit within the president – a jock’s sensibility rather than the professorial attitude most Americans are familiar with.
Romney eventually quit complaining and started working to undo the damage Obama had done to the former Massachusetts governor’s reputation. He also took a tougher tone in prosecuting Obama’s record. Rather than saying the president was a nice guy who was in over his head, Romney started saying that Obama was reckless and wrong on the economy and spending.
But it was too late. Those persuadable voters who didn’t stay home concluded that while Romney might have a better economic plan, they didn’t trust him to look after their best interests. Republicans are scouring their souls and attempting a game of demographic connect-the-dots, but one lesson they have largely overlooked is that voters do not trust big government or big business.
Republicans are now stunned – “flabbergasted” said the House speaker -- that Obama is bringing a similarly audacious approach to his efforts to secure tax rate increases on top earners and other liberal fiscal wish-list items.
Republicans assumed since they came back to town, hats in hand, ready to do a deal on taxes, Obama would give them grace enough and political cover enough to get the deal done. That’s old Washington thinking. That’s Romney thinking. That’s thinking unsuited to the Age of Obama.
The Republicans are looking for a way to cut a larger deal that trades long-term entitlement cuts and short-term reductions in the growth of spending for higher taxes. They are looking for a grand bargain. Obama nixed such a deal when he was an embattled incumbent facing re-election. Why would one suppose that he would be more inclined to do such a thing now?
If that’s what Obama wanted, he wouldn’t be picking a semantic, ideological fight over whether tax payments came in the form of shrunken loopholes or higher rates. If Obama wanted a grand bargain or a demonstration of political graciousness, he wouldn’t be demanding tax hikes now in exchange for consideration of tax reform one year hence.
Today, Obama will address a collection of corporate CEOs in which he will call for the debt ceiling to be lifted without conditions, perhaps even abolished. The same Obama who once voted against raising the limit is now saying that it should be scrapped.
Republicans are shocked and stunned. “Hypocrisy,” they cry. “Bad faith,” they wail.
The electorate is doing its best to ignore the tedium of these eternal, infernal negotiations. That leaves little chance of a popular uprising for the president to show more grace, or for the defense of limits on borrowing. It’s such a muddle and so seemingly pointless that Mr. and Mrs. America can be forgiven for tuning out.
As for the press, what are Republicans expecting? A sudden new sense of outrage? C’mon, dude.
Obama has outrun even some of his staunchest media supporters in this battle. When the fight started, the media focus was on Republican intransigence on taxing rich people. Norquist this and Bush-era that. Obama surprised some with his own intransigence on rates versus revenue when Republicans looked ready to give in, but that has been mostly excused as a bargaining tactic.
There has been some more meaningful media head shaking on the fact that Obama is at most looking at some entitlement tweaks and not willing to work on a deal today that would address systemic problems. Obama wants a three-step process that starts with a tax hike and includes later negotiations over some entitlement and tax reforms.
But whatever the Washington Post and USA Today may say today, in the end, Obama will mostly get a pass and the discussion will return to the old points: Republican obstructionism, Tea Party hostage takers and the reckless GOP. In a left-leaning media, liberal intransigence is always much more readily forgiven.
So what are Republicans to do? Which of the options available are the least bad?
Power Play can’t say. But whatever they do cannot be predicated on goading or shaming Obama into a less audacious stance. They will have to find a way to stick together when he is trying to break them apart and they will have to find a way to fight for every inch, even when the chorus of boos rains down from press row.
Grueling? Yes. Unfair? Yes. But better for Republicans to face the realities of life in the Age of Obama than to do what Romney did and pretend otherwise.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The only reason the president insists on raising rates is because he knows it will destroy Republican unity. It will cause a complete fracture of the Republican majority in the House. It will hand him a Congress that he can then manipulate for the next two years at least, because the Republicans will be neutered.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.