Virgil may be a cynic, but he has a heart. So he sympathizes with Republicans as they confront Barack Obama and his rogue presidency. I understand that the President is driving conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans crazy. Unfortunately, the right doesn’t have the luxury of acting crazy.
Specifically, if Obama is seeking an “imperial presidency,” as conservative radio talker Mark Levin correctly observes, there are ways to deal with such overreach within the political system--and there are ways not to. And Republicans have to learn the difference between effective opposition and simply throwing their political lives away on empty gestures.
Yes, Virgil understands how maddening it must be for the right when the President attacks Republicans for positions that he himself once held. During his Monday press conference, for example, Obama denounced Congressional Republicans for attempting to negotiate spending cuts in return for an increase in the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling, he intoned, must never be a political football. So never mind that as a Senator, back in 2006, Obama had played his own kind of political football with the debt ceiling. Indeed, the Washington Post’s fact-checker compared President Obama in 2013 to Senator Obama in 2006 and declared his reversal to be--shifting sports-metaphors here--“a major-league flip-flop.”
Speaking of liberals, we might note that Fox News talking head Kirsten Powers described Obama at his Monday press conference as “petulant,” adding that he was “acting annoyed that people were asking him questions.” Annoyed at us? Well, we’re annoyed at him, because he’s a flip-flopper.
Yet of course, liberal or MSM criticism of Obama’s annoying outrageousness is vanishingly scarce. As Fred Barnes wrote recently, “No president in my lifetime has been covered so favorably.” We might note that Barnes was born in 1943, so his lifetime includes such media favorites as FDR and JFK. Thus there’s every reason to think that Obama’s “four-year honeymoon,” as Barnes describes it, will prove to be an “eight-year honeymoon.” That’s not a good thing, but it’s a true thing--and so Republicans have to factor Obama’s fawning media coverage into their own strategic calculations.
Indeed, Obama skates over everything. As a January 13 Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out, he complains about rising health-care costs, all the while acting as if he has had nothing to do with health-care policy over the last four years. Is it an outrage that he ignores his own past claims that Obamacare would stop the rise in health-care costs? And that now we are left with a clunker of a health bill and rising costs? Of course it’s outrageous. But it’s an outrage that the MSM will ignore, and so the rest of us will have to work all the harder to make that point to the American people.
And now, of course, comes the big fight over guns--our guns. That’s the issue that provoked Levin’s “imperial presidency” comment, and again, Levin is spot-on. Not only is Obama pushing gun-grabbing legislation, but he also intends to push gun-grabbing executive orders--23 at last count, and who’s to say there won’t be more.
So how should Republicans react? What sort of strategy should Republicans employ? Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas has his answer--and it’s a bad one. Stockman says he might call for Obama’s impeachment if he follows through on his gun-grabbing plans. There is zero chance, of course, that Obama is going to be impeached on the gun issue. And that’s good, because the last time that House Republicans tried to impeach a president, in 1998, the effort not only failed, but blew up in the GOP’s face; the Democrats won an upset victory in the 1998 midterms.
Not content to leave bad enough alone, Stockman even started comparing the President of the United States to Saddam Hussein--and that was too much, even for Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren. Note to Republicans: When you get shut down by Fox, you are too far over; you are always entitled to your opinion, of course, but you are no longer in politics--you are in some other realm of useless fist-shaking.
As noted, Virgil understands that Obama is driving Republicans to the brink. But that doesn’t mean they should take a flying leap into fantasyland.
By contrast, in this real world, Republicans can win the coming legislative battle over gun control--if they can keep their rhetoric under control, if they can keep the focus on the Constitution and the Second Amendment, and if they can highlight the obvious need for personal self-defense in a sometimes lawless society. As to that last point, if Republicans can weave the harrowing tale of Donnie and Melinda Herman of Loganville, GA into the national conversation, they will not only win the argument in favor of guns, but they will also win the argument in favor of big ammo clips.
Okay, so that’s the gun issue for now--more on that soon.
In the meantime, however, Republicans still seem to be flirting with a foolhardy plan: shutting the government down, or tossing the nation into default, as a way of underscoring their opposition to spending. We might immediately note that Republicans, in the end, won’t actually stop spending through such tactics. Instead, they will merely underscore their opposition to such spending in a dramatic way--and so what if it’s also politically suicidal? In some ideological circles, the beau geste is all that matters. But in practical problem-solving circles, you have to survive in order to win.
And surviving and winning do not always seem to be top GOP priorities. Politico’s lead story on Monday was headlined “Double trouble: House GOP eyes default, shutdown.” And while Republicans should always assume that the left-leaning Politico is trying to stir up trouble, the piece quoted the #4 Republican in the House, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, as saying, “I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious.”
With all due respect to Ms. Rodgers, Obama understands that Republicans are serious. The problem for the GOP is that Obama has the power on his side. In addition to the presidency, the Democrats also have the Senate. They also have the MSM, and the national and international financial markets. In a game of poker, if you’re serious, and the other guy has a full house, you lose, even if he’s not serious.
Come to think of it, though, maybe Republicans aren’t serious--not serious, that is, in the sense of having a coherent plan that they can articulate. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, for example, is one of the most conservative members of Congress, and yet when he appeared on Fox News on Tuesday, he couldn’t or wouldn't name any program that he wanted to cut.
The truth is that King probably has a long list of programs that he, personally, would like to see cut, but he possesses enough prudence--not wanting to wander off by himself, like Stockman--that he is waiting to gain at least a few House allies for whatever budget plan he might put forward.
But in the meantime, it does appear that the “default deniers,” as Politico dubs them, are numerous enough to make default a real possibility.
And if this happens, well, it will be a calamity.
Virgil outlined the basic argument as to why Congressional Republicans should not provoke a showdown with the President--and all his allies in the commanding heights of society--here at Breitbart News on January 6.
And Virgil was pleased to see no less an eminence than Karl Rove echo the same point three days later, on January 9:
With control of just one chamber, Republicans won't be able to advance much-needed structural changes in entitlements. That's the cost of losing the 2012 election. A Republican wish list will have to await a GOP president and Congress.
For now, Republicans must make Mr. Obama take ownership of his deficits and the debt (which has increased from $10.626 trillion the day he took office to $16.433 trillion on Wednesday). It's impossible to negotiate with an ideologue, but Republicans can systematically unmask him and constrain him as much as their limited power allows, if they are united and acting in concert.
And then two days after that, on January 11, another Republican sage, Frank Luntz, chimed in:
And Republicans need to stop expressing a willingness to shut down the government if they don’t get their way on the debt ceiling. Americans don’t want a government shutdown — for any reason.
And then on January 15, even the Koch Brothers’ own Americans for Prosperity advised Republicans to chill on the debt-ceiling fight:
"We’re saying calibrate your message. Focus on overspending instead of long-term debt,” said Tim Phillips, president of AFP. “Focusing on [the debt ceiling] makes the messaging more difficult."
Meanwhile, of course, Republicans are at the bottom end of the popularity well, so deep down that they can barely see the sky. A January 13 Zogby poll found that on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Obama enjoys a 52 precent approval rating, with 43 percent disapproving. In other words, a nine-point net positive for the president.
That’s not great, to be sure, but in politics, everything is relative. Thus Obama looks stratospheric compared to the troll-like ratings of the Republicans. Speaker John Boehner’s approve/disapprove on the fiscal cliff was 18 percent to 68 percent, which is a not-so-nifty minus fifty. The Senate GOP rating was even worse: 14 percent up, and 77 percent down.
So again, this is not good ground from which to fight with the President. Republicans must pick their battles carefully. The gun issue is a good battle, the debt ceiling is a bad battle. And another GSA scandal, or another Fast and Furious investigation, or another Susan Rice derailing--that would be best of all.
But such political gifts don’t just fall down from the trees. Republicans have to search for them, cultivate them, and harvest them.
So for now, Republicans need to seize their opportunities when and where they can. A few small victories are better than a single massive defeat.