To do so would make sense only if the GOP means to lose the election of 2012 and to undermine its newly installed House majority. Public rejection of calls for civility inevitably looks like a defense of incivility; noisy attacks on offers of compromise suggest a close-minded and mean-spirited extremism.
Positioning yourself as the party of nastiness and polarization may play well with small elements of your base, but can hardly qualify as a winning political strategy.
In a sense, the current conservative dilemma seems unfair – causing some strategists and activists to yearn for the hyper-partisan food fights of the fondly remembered good old days…way back in October and November of 2010.
In the midst of the congressional campaign, President Obama defined himself as a strident, often indignant party leader, campaigning vigorously for his fellow Democrats while ripping their opponents as “enemies” who deserved to be “punished,” or suggesting that the only appropriate Republican role as he steered the country would amount to a position as passive passengers in “the back seat.”
The voters delivered a clear-cut November verdict on this White House combativeness with an historic Republican sweep, delivering 63 seats in the House of Representatives and six Democratic Senators replaced by newcomers from the GOP. But a new presidential strategy emerged during the lame duck session of Congress – tentatively and grudgingly at first, with Obama deriding Republican negotiators as “hostage takers” but later celebrating their joint achievement of a grand compromise on extension of the Bush tax rates. Before leaving Washington for his Hawaii vacation, the president began projecting a notably sunnier face toward his opponents, culminating with his eloquent and effective comments in his big speech on the Tucson tragedy and his expected emphasis on similar themes of accommodation and civility in his State of the Union Address.
The public has responded positively with a small uptick in Obama’s standing in every major poll. Americans remain broadly divided on his job performance (a January AP-GfK Poll shows 53% approval, 46% disapproval) but maintain big reservoirs of good will toward the president’s personality.