If Barack Obama wants Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House in 2015, he needs to strike a grand bargain with his political adversaries – congressional Republicans.
Of course, conventional wisdom holds just the opposite; in fact, President Obama told House Republicans last week he is not focused on 2014 politics. According to reports, he said, “If I truly were interested in defeating you guys in 2014, then I’d want to use immigration as a wedge issue, not try to reach a deal; I’d want to demagogue Medicare and Social Security cuts, rather than agree to cut them.”
NBC’s First Read reported one member of the “legislating wing of the House GOP” was “particularly impressed” by Obama’s logic. Allow me to explain to this naïve congressman why the best political play for Obama and congressional Democrats is to cut a deal.
Example #1: December 2010 Tax Deal
Throughout the summer and fall of 2010, Obama was upside down in the polls and the Tea Party wave swept Pelosi from the speakership. Just before Christmas, Obama and congressional Republicans reached a deal to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. By the beginning of 2011, Obama’s poll numbers had rebounded; he was in positive territory for the first time in nearly six months.
Under the January 3, 2011 headline “Obama Job Approval Reaches 50% for First Time Since Spring,” Gallup explained:
“The latest numbers also come at a time when the president was on vacation in Hawaii and out of the political spotlight, following a highly publicized pre-Christmas session with Congress that resulted in the passage of several major pieces of legislation.”
As Charles Krauthammer sagely observed, “the bipartisan nature of the tax deal instantly repositioned Obama to the center.”
Example #2: August 2011 Debt Deal
By June 2011, Gallup reported Obama’s bin Laden bounce had subsided, coinciding “with an increase in Americans' pessimism about the economy.” The debt ceiling debt, which played out to varying degrees throughout the summer, continued to take a toll on Obama’s approval rating. By mid-August, Obama’s disapproval stood at 52%. Gallup explained:
“In the current situation, it is reasonable to assume that several events of the last few weeks have played a part in depressing the public's approval of Obama. These include the widespread public disapproval of the way Washington handled the debt crisis, a substantial drop in the public's confidence in the economy, and last week's gyrations in the stock market.” [emphasis added]
Per the Associated Press, Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod explained, “independents are disgusted with everyone involved the loud partisan squabbling over the debt limit.”
The simple takeaway: Washington dysfunction is politically damaging to the “post-partisan” Obama, whereas widely reported bipartisan legislative accomplishments have the opposite effect.
Of course this is not an exhaustive analysis, but the President’s recent actions suggest his political advisors now hold the same view.
After taking a sequester-related polling hit – even Joe Biden’s former economic advisor Jared Bernstein acknowledged the “White House may have overplayed its hand on this point” – Obama realized he could not go it alone. Rather than being drenched in the stench of Washington dysfunction he began his GOP charm offensive.
Why charm the GOP?
The Los Angeles Times reported, “Administration officials argued it was more than [a show], saying the president wants to reestablish trust and improve communication.” Trust, of course is key to any deal; and a deal is what Obama desperately wants.
For Obama, a deal is heads he wins, tails Republicans lose. Not only will his poll numbers increase, but it also has the potential to weaken his political adversaries. Any Republican who votes for a grand bargain littered with tax increases is likely to encounter significant primary opposition. At the very least, that Republican will have to use resources to repel a challenge from the right and will limp into a general election fight against a well-funded Democrat.
Obama and his team understand this. They also understand Republicans have a very myopic view of Hispanics and immigration, which David Plouffe, the genius behind Obama’s 2008 election, was kind enough to say on the record:
“And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos.”
Before Republicans resume negotiations with the President, they need to have an accurate read of the political playing field. Right now, Team Obama is selling some “particularly impressed” GOP lawmakers a blueprint to surrendering the Speaker’s gavel to Pelosi.