Ryan Lees

Barack Obama has a daunting task come January 2011, after the forecasted Republican landslide in the mid-term elections. Whether establishment or Tea Party candidates, a conservative agenda is poised to take control. Obama will face two choices as Republicans mount their attack: to veto or not to veto.

Dramatic conservative gains are presently a foregone conclusion. Yes, Biden is stumping for and prophesizing Dem victory, but this follows Gibb’s statements that Democrats will lose control.

218 seats are needed for House control. Real Clear Politics places definite Republican seats at 207. A more telling statistic is that 66 Dem seats are likely to go Republican or considered toss-ups and 49 are leaning Democrat, yet remain vulnerable. Considering that only four Republican seats show significant vulnerability, Republicans have a good bet.

Will Obama read the tea leaves and work with Republicans or will he continue his agenda with the veto? Amid the inevitable healthcare hearings and onslaught of Republican legislation, likely resembling Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap,” Obama will need to answer.

President Clinton faced a similar situation in ‘94 with Newt Gingrich and successfully navigated the turbulent waters. Republicans passed small business protections, welfare reform and national security legislation as promised. Clinton signed the legislation, in some cases after ceremonial vetoes, and then launched PR campaigns to abduct the credit.

As the economy improved he then trapped the Republicans in a budget battle that forced a government shutdown and labeled it Republican. After a period of low favorability Clinton was reelected in 1996. Is this what Obama will count on?

His other option is a serial-veto. If Republicans can manage a majority in the Senate, it will be slim, but they will likely be in the minority without any possible override. Obama‘s veto would stand; however, it is smarter to follow in Clinton’s footsteps: letting the Republicans enact enough legislation to show your flexibility (and improve the economy) while foiling them where you can (the budget).

Team Obama reads the playbook like everyone else. It would enable them to have a second term to fulfill what Charles Krauthammer terms “Act Two.” A 2010 Republican victory may lead to a strengthened Team Obama and requires conservatives to act in two ways.

First, Hill Republicans must learn public relations. Bill Clinton erased any semblance of Republican influence after 1994 because of his public relations and Republicans’ odd inability to speak about and explain their actions to the nation through the media.

Ryan Lees

Ryan Lees is the Director of Media Outreach and a Program Coordinator at the Patrick Henry Center.