Obama 2.0: Destroy the GOP as National Party
Since winning reelection, President Obama has been aggressive, combative and supremely confident in his public appearances. Like many reelected Presidents, he enters his second term believing he has a personal mandate from the voters. Unlike many others in their second term, however, he seems focused not on achieving specific policy results, but in reshaping the American political landscape. He is set to use the next four years to make the Republican Party a toxic brand in many parts of the country.
He has navigated the "fiscal cliff" negotiations and the coming debt debate without any actual plan. He doesn't, like most Presidents, propose X or Y. He employs rhetoric to suggest he is open to compromise and then uses the rest of his time to bash the GOP. Someone who is interested in negotiating a specific solution doesn't begin by ruthlessly attacking the opposition.
Understand, Obama isn't trying just to win. He is trying to win in a particular way. No matter the issue, each attack on Republicans is the same. They are unreasonable, "crazy" or trying to "turn back the clock." It is an attempt to make them toxic in any current or future debate. Over the next few months, Obama will try to poison the well for the GOP on several issues.
Obama's greatest asset is the media. They willingly echo Obama's talking points. On the "fiscal cliff" and the coming debt debate, the coverage has been exclusively on what the GOP would or wouldn't do. The issue is framed as if the GOP has the sole authority to set America's fiscal policy. If we go over a cliff or breach the debt ceiling, it is exclusively the fault of the GOP, rather than a failure of the two parties to reach a compromise.
Obama has seized on the tragedy in Connecticut to push the same line of argument. Although none of the proposals he is pushing would have prevented the shooting in Newtown, they serve to set up the GOP as against "reasonable" measures. Obama isn't particularly interested in passing his proposals, as his fairly weak "executive actions" reveal, but he is interested in pushing the GOP to what he believes is the fringe of opinion.
Obama has nominated a slate of candidates for the Cabinet that are almost intentionally designed to spark GOP ire. His new national security team breaks from the past few decades and lurches to the left. His nominee for Treasury, Jack Lew, is almost a deliberate provocation of Senate Republicans. The picks seem designed to provoke the maximum opposition from the GOP. For weeks, the GOP will be seen as "obstructing" the President's picks for his cabinet.
The next issues out of the Obama Administration, will be immigration and, most likely, climate change. Both will be used by Obama to turn off large segments of the voting public from the GOP. He will never propose any specific policies, but suggest a general approach and leave it to the GOP to handle the specifics. We will have a replay of the fiscal cliff's focus on what the GOP will or won't do on the issue.
Obama is certainly a committed leftist. But, he is not an ideological leftist in the way we're used to thinking. He continued most of Bush's anti-terror policies, increased deportation of illegal immigrants and stepped up crack-downs of medical marijuana clinics. He ignored immigration reform and gay rights until the onset of the election.
Obama is playing a long game. Over the next year, he will attempt to set up the GOP as an unreasonable party of obstructionism. The media will partner with him to amplify the charge. Little substantively will happen, but the GOP may find itself marginalized unless it finds a way out of Obama's trap. Unfortunately, based on recent events, it doesn't seem the GOP even know the trap exists.