Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) claimed on Friday that the fight to defund Obamacare had been a plus for the GOP, in part because it prevented Republicans from having to give in on the sequester. That fight is not yet over, and I think DeMint relies implicitly (and too much) on the (possibly strategic) pessimism of liberal Peter Beinart. Whatever the results for the GOP, however, it is clear President Barack Obama blew a big chance.
That is a point I made at the outset: “As Republicans scrambled to find a way to pass funding for the federal government, the president could have extracted heavy concessions on other issues in exchange for a delay in parts of Obamacare. Instead, he just stonewalled…Even if [Republicans] cave, all they will do is drop their demand for changes in Obamacare. Obama will have ‘won’ the political game–and that is all.”
At Thursday’s press conference, the president made it clear that he cares more about sticking it to his critics than in building bridges to the opposition. His thinking is that once the Republican “fever” breaks, he will be able to do what he wants. But he will never again have the leverage over the GOP that he had during the crisis, and Republicans will feel continued pressure from their voters not to compromise on key issues.
The president pretended, throughout, that he was standing up for the principle that funding the government and raising the debt limit are so essential that they should not be subject to negotiation. That pretense was dropped once Democrats felt the political winds at their backs and tried to see what else they could squeeze out of desperate Republicans, without–and this is crucial–giving Republicans anything of value in return.
Funding the government and paying the nation’s debts are important, indeed. Yet they imply a different principle: namely, that the federal government should stop spending money it does not have and needs to borrow. The fight over the shutdown and the debt limit were only proxies for debates over that underlying issue. And in a non-crisis situation, as my colleague Ben Shapiro points out, Obama cannot win that contest.
Obama could have traded a one-year delay in Obamacare–which he may now need–for a big win on other policy issues. Instead, he made future compromise even more difficult. He may hope to return Democrats to power in the House–but the truth is that Americans don’t want the government to do what Democrats want it to do. They prefer bad opposition to no opposition. That is why Obama’s win this week was minor at best.