There’s not much percolating in the GOP presidential race right now besides the same old, same old: Texas Gov. Rick Perry all but saying he’s running, just not yet; Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty sniping at one another in what may turn out to be an elimination contest between them in Iowa; Herman Cain still trying to explain his various comments about Muslims as he fades from real contention.
If they’re smart, Republican candidates are letting this week in 2012 politics be about Barack Obama and the nation’s debt.
The president spent weeks insisting it was up to Congress to solve the debt-ceiling problem — which is technically true, although the reality that he has to sign any legislation Congress passes suggests it’s not crazy of the leaders on Capitol Hill to think they should have buy-in from the White House beforehand. Then Obama did get involved, repeatedly describing himself as the only responsible person in Washington and talking about the leaders of a co-equal branch of government as if they were his children.
The primary result, to date, has been to drive said leaders away from his negotiating table to work on a deal — a deal that, as of right now, looks like it will ignore Obama’s central demand of including new tax revenues. That, and to leave Obama giving a primetime address to the nation in an attempt to keep himself relevant in the very negotiations he once wanted no part of.
The president’s speech Monday night also had the ostensible goal of making sure the public blames Republicans in the event of a technical default or a credit-rating downgrade. Which was curious, given that Democrats keep citing public opinion polls indicating the public’s already doing that. Are Obama and his fellow Democrats worried that they’ll actually get too much of the blame?
And what if a deal is struck? By making it clear that his talks with Speaker John Boehner were fruitless, Obama has essentially cut himself out of any credit for a deal. If a deal is struck, it most likely will not be because Obama was able to pull various congressional factions together but, rather, because Congress called his bluff by putting together a deal that wasn’t on his terms.
Some Republican voters might blame GOP lawmakers for a deal that they view as too much of a compromise, but read my lips: That’s not going to make those people vote for Obama next year. Or stay home from the polls rather than voting for his GOP opponent. Who, in all likelihood, will be someone who wasn’t in Congress during this debate. (Sorry, Michele.)
I doubt Obama will get a primary opponent, despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’ laments. But I think it’s reasonable to ask whether liberals will be as enthusiastic about keeping Obama as conservatives are about voting him out, especially when I see poll numbers like these reported by the Washington Post:
The Post-ABC poll found that the number of liberal Democrats who strongly support Obama’s record on jobs plunged 22 points from 53 percent last year to 31 percent. The number of African Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed.
The last three national elections — 2006, 2008 and 2010 — have been repudiations of the ruling party (in Congress, the White House and Congress again, respectively). The next one is shaping up likewise, and more weeks like this one will make it hard for Obama to buck the trend.
– By Kyle Wingfield