Obama Gets His Christmas Wish: A Divided GOP

Obama Gets His Christmas Wish: A Divided GOP; The Ron Paul Pickle; About Next Week

Unity Lapses for House GOP

“I cannot support this, but it seems the politics of demagoguery have won over policy and principle with the concession to enact tax policy on two-month basis. This is a sad day for America and further evidences our continuing decline. Men and women of principle are become a dying breed in this Republic...”

-- Facebook posting from Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

Caught between a disapproving Republican establishment and a rebellious caucus, House Speaker John Boehner threw in the towel on the effort to pass a yearlong extension of the current payroll tax holiday and funding for long-term unemployment benefits and Medicare.

That sets up the big drama for today: will any House Republicans move to stop the deal from going through. It only takes one, since Boehner is moving the package by “unanimous consent.” If even one House member stands up to object, the speedy deal is kaput.

The deal includes concessions on a couple of key points but is a substantial win for President Obama and Senate Democrats mostly because it has created so much dissention in the House Republican ranks. While the policy differences involved are relatively insignificant for a government $16 trillion in debt and for a country mired in a stagnant economy, the victory is significant for Democrats because they were finally able break what had been a united front for the GOP.

Similarly, there would be little real significance if someone did object and prevent the measure from going through before Christmas. The whole House would return next week and pass the measure on a regular vote, but the image of one or even a clutch of dissenters blowing up Boehner’s deal would be a big boost for Democrats hoping to divide and conquer.

Remember, whether it is the president lamenting the loss of pizza parties for New Jersey dads or the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page freaking out, this has all been about the optics.

With conservatives not lending their unified support and many respected voices on the right openly dissing Boehner’s leadership style of giving members their own way, there was little chance for Republicans to yet again take Obama to the mat.

House leaders have done what they have not really done before, and that is attempting to jam their own members. And, having accepted a series of concessions to move forward on this issue, conservative members are in no mood to be forgiving.

The big complaint is the way the announcement was handled. Having been sent away on Wednesday with promises that leaders would stay and fight the good fight, members got on a conference call Friday to be told that the deal was done. Again, the policies are relatively unimportant, but the presentation and posture are the problem.

“I was like ‘Is this Nancy Pelosi?’” one GOP freshman told Power Play. “That we would be dictated to on this was just unbelievable. It felt like a betrayal.”

That freshman said he would not be returning to blockade the vote, saying he would let the deal go through “because [they] already lost the war,” and others who say they would come back to object live too far away to have flown back and made it to the floor by mid-morning to block the bill.

But there are plenty of conservative members in surrounding states or within an easy drive who could take to the floor and force a vote next week. And what about presidential contenders Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann? Will they allow the unpopular compromise to stand? The image of wither of them racing back to Washington to have a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Moment” would be catnip for the conservative base.

Surely Obama will be making a Christmas wish that he gets to fly off to Hawaii with images of the House GOP in disarray and House and Senate Republicans at each other’s throats beaming into every television screen in the land.

Obama, having convinced the political press to treat this with the same gravity as a government shutdown or a debt-ceiling breach or the Cuban Missile Crisis, knows that there will be few voices to remind viewers and readers that there is still time to resolve the issue through regular means.

Ron Paul Explained (Partially)

"[Ron Paul] is a guy who basically says, if the United States were only nice, it wouldn't have had 9/11. He doesn't want to blame the bad guys. ... He dismisses the danger of Iranian nuclear weapons and seems to be indifferent to the idea that Israel could be wiped out. And as I said, I think the key to his volunteer base is people who want to legalize drugs."

-- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an interview Thursday with radio host John McCaslin.

Mainstream Republicans tolerated Ron Paul for most of the 2012 cycle for two reasons:

First, many of Paul’s ideas have become mainstream themselves, like cracking down on the Federal Reserve and breaking up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Tea Party movement was the best reflection of the strength of the small-government, libertarian-ish sentiment inside the GOP since Barry Goldwater beat Nelson Rockefeller. The election of Paul’s son, Rand, as a Senator from Kentucky in 2010 confirmed the mainstreaming of Paulism.

Second, Paul’s fellow presidential contenders had learned well the lesson of Rudy Giuliani’s demise in 2008. While Giuliani’s retreat-to-victory strategy was unsound, Giuliani’s ferocious attacks on Paul during the 2008 debates were no help. Even when Giuliani succeeded in making Paul look like a kook, he was left arguing with a kook – a kook who enjoyed a rather sympathetic hearing from the Republican base on domestic issues.

By attacking Paul over 9/11 and Iraq, Giuliani invited comparisons with the congressman which may have been helpful on foreign policy and terrorism but were not so flattering when it came to domestic issues and the candidates’ personal lives. While Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann were willing to fight with Paul over terror and defense policy in a battle for Iowa caucus goers, top-tier candidates were more likely to use phrases like “Ron Paul is right about…”

After all, Paul has been the preferred protest vote for conservative activists at straw polls since they were forced to accept John McCain as a more palatable alternative to Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee in 2008.

But following the speedy demise of Herman Cain’s candidacy, Paul has gone from protest vote to possible Iowa winner. A victory in Iowa would further legitimize Paul and increase his eventual delegate count. That sets up the possibility of Paul arriving at the RNC convention in Tampa with 20 percent or more of the delegates.

Many Iowa Republicans are despairing at the idea because it has been made clear that a Paul victory would mean the end of relevance for the caucuses. Party fathers warn that if Iowans want to preserve their first-in-the-nation position, Paul must be defeated. But Paul has powerful weapons at his disposal. First is general Republican unhappiness with their crop of contenders, second are his devoted supporters, but third, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that social conservatives have come around to his way of thinking.

Rather than cultural crusaders and preachers like previous Iowa favorites Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson, Paul is offering home schoolers and opponents of court-ordered gay marriage a new deal: Get the federal government out of the culture business altogether. Conservative activist Grover Norquist summed it up when describing what he calls the “Leave Us Alone Coalition,” in which social and fiscal conservatives agree that they both benefit from neutering the federal government rather than empowering it.

How else to explain how Paul, who favors federal drug decriminalization and allowing states to sort out their own laws on gay marriage, could be doing so well in a party once cast as a passel of religious zealots and “Christianists?” Iowa Conservatives figure that Paul’s plans might make Massachusetts or Maryland bastions of drug use and marital upheaval, but that they might be able to establish their own culturally conservative haven between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Paul’s views on foreign policy do not recognize the Reaganite perspective that America has special rights and responsibilities in the world. This understanding of American Exceptionalism is central to the Republican Party’s worldview, but in a year in which domestic affairs are central and many conservatives are frustrated with President Obama’s interventionist foreign policy, it hasn’t been so harmful.

After the Newt Gingrich supernova faded, the coalition of Paul’s libertarian base, protest voters and Leave Us Alone enthusiasts has put the Texas congressman in position to win the Iowa caucuses. And so, mainstream Republicans cannot afford to be so indulgent as they were before. Accordingly, rivals and their surrogates are bringing out all the old stuff on Paul, and some new hits too.

The biggest danger for Paul, as ever, is the Paulists. Paul has been answering for 20 years charges of racism, John Bircher-ism and Black Helicopter-ism, mostly because of what his supporters have said or done on his behalf. Paul has taken some very exotic positions, like his praise for the Army private who Wikileaked several gigabytes of classified material, but the biggest hits on Paul have come for what his supporters have said and done and for Paul having tolerated their freakiness.

Newt Gingrich has abandoned his pledge of relentless positivity to go after Paul hammer and tongs, calling him an enemy of Israel and dismissing his activist base as a bunch of potheads. This may help tamp Paul down, but it’s hard to see it doing too much for Gingrich, now struggling to hold on to his status as the leading “not Romney.”

With conservatives questioning his bona fides and character, it will not profit Gingrich to be in a fight with conservative purist and family man Paul. See Giuliani, Rudolph W. L.

Rick Perry has taken a couple of tentative swipes at Paul, but has mostly opted to stay out of the Paulapalooza, having been whacked pretty hard for his dust-ups with his fellow Texan early on.

The rest of the contenders to be the conservative alternative to Romney, meanwhile, have been working hard to stop Paul. Remember, a Paul win in Iowa does the most damage to Bachmann or Santorum since not only would it displace them from a possible win, but also lessen the significance of the state in the media narrative. Like mini Gingriches (Gingri?), Bachmann and Santorum need Iowa to matter very much in order to advance or at least be taken seriously as a worthwhile ally for the eventual nominee. Perry might actually benefit from an Iowa muddle if he shows well and can shift his resources to South Carolina as the candidate best situated to stop both Romney and Paul.

Romney is in a more interesting spot with Paul.

Romney knows he could quickly sew up the nomination if he defies conventional wisdom and wins Iowa. The Obama campaign knows it too, as evidenced by the blistering anti-Romney op-ed from the campaign’s designated emissary to middle-class white voters, Vice President Joe “Scranton” Biden.

But if Paul wins in Iowa it would be proof that the conservatives, who have been searching for months for their champion, have failed to coalesce and are resigned to Romney as nominee. Remember that Paul would do best in a low-turnout affair in which his ground troops can have outsized impact. That would be a welcome sign for Romney.

Merry Christmas, Etc.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

-- Luke 2:6-7, King James Version.

Power Play had intended to devote today’s note to glad tidings, but events intervened, as they so often do in politics, against niceness.

This note, as well as the online show “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt” will be on hiatus next week and will reappear in the New Year with an Iowa dateline.

And so, this is the last chance for Power Play to thank everyone at FOX News for a wonderful 2011 – especially all the folks who have made this note and the online show a success – and to look forward to an eventful 2012.

Thanks, most of all, to you, Internet, for reading and watching, providing tips, corrections, support and lots of laughs.

Power Play wishes you and yours a very merry Christmas, if you’re into that kind of thing, or simply a pleasant long weekend, if that’s how you roll.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.