Gut Check Time for Conservative Cliff Jumpers

“Honest to God, I was sure they had the votes.”

-- A surprised House Republican who had been an opponent of Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” plan for the “fiscal cliff” talking to Power Play about Boehner’s decision to cancel a vote on the measure.

If Power Play had told you four years ago that President Elect Barack Obama today would be on the precipice of getting the full rollback of the Bush-era tax cuts coupled with deep defense cuts, it would have sounded like a liberal fantasy.

If Power Play told you that he would be able to blame Republicans for this multi-trillion-dollar tax hike and Pentagon punch it would have sounded like a conservative nightmare.

But that is where the re-elected Obama stands today after House Republicans spurned a proposal by Speaker John Boehner to avoid the automatic tax increase for all but those who earn $1 million or more and to shift the defense cuts into mostly domestic programs.


It’s not that the measure would have passed the Senate, but it would have been the starting point in which a deal was done to avert most of the tax increase.

Instead, it looks increasingly likely that the hammer will fall and Obama will get his way. Once the Bush-era rates die off, Obama will have a year in which to wheedle new tax policy out of Republicans, starting from a higher baseline. What most expected would be the Obama tax hike are instead now likely be the Obama tax cuts.

Republicans could talk, post-cliff, about what tax rates were before, but that is like talking about what government spending was before the age of Obama: a complicated, backward-looking argument that will draw little water with voters.

There is much magical thinking on the right these days. The central tenet of these fantasies is that jumping the cliff will trigger a scorching recession and that Obama will be pressured into accepting the return to the previous rates – that facing an economy headed for oblivion Obama will be forced to give in.

Does that sound the Obama you know? Especially the emboldened, re-elected Obama?

Conservative cliff jumpers argue that since voters chose Obama, they deserve to get what they voted for, namely a big tax increase. The thinking is that once people see the disaster that tax increases wreak on the economy, they will come running for Republicanism.

But whatever the Mayans say, the recession would not come like a meteor crashing into the economy. It would be like a rising tide that swamps one sector after another. The electorate, spoon fed daily on White House talking points, would not bring their pitchforks and demand Obama relent. They would instead watch their paychecks shrink and the economy submerge and despair.

Voters would blame both parties and both branches of government and would demand action. And in that case, it would be House members, facing voters in less than two years who will feel the greatest pressure, not the president.

It’s true that Obama is risking his legacy and any chance at a fruitful second term with his brinksmanship, but he is also gaining the chance to be a truly transformative liberal president. If he can break the back of the Republicans in the next two years and perhaps even regain the House in midterms, he would have the chance to truly remake government and the nation.

Obama is ready to make the gamble and so far, Republicans are doing just as he hoped.

Conservatives arguing that now is the time to let it all come crashing down are angry at Obama, angry at voters, angry at their party’s leadership. Part of this is resentment among conservatives who are angry at voters for re-electing a president the right believes is not just incompetent but wicked. The fact that a majority of voters chose Obama galls many Republicans who think that this election was the tipping point moment in which the takers overtook the makers.

This has led them to convince themselves that not avoiding all of an automatic tax increase is the same as voting to increase taxes. They are embracing this fiscal doomsday scenario on the grounds that out of the ashes will rise a purified Republican Party, a chastened electorate and a weakened Obama.

But last night’s debacle is proving to be a gut-check moment for those in the “the worse the better” crowd. Many of those opposed to Boehner’s plan did so believing that it would pass anyway and that they would be able to say “I told you so” when the final deal was done with Democrats.

Having actually managed to block the plan and with the start of their doomsday scenario now just days away, will so many feel so sanguine about a strategy that sounded good in the aftermath of the election but is now confronting reality?

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I'll just add one thing. If the ‘Plan B’ does not succeed, if he fails in the House, Boehner has a ‘Plan C.’ That's the Mayan apocalypse [today].”

-- 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 Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at