Obama Could Become the 'President of No' (If Republicans Avoid the Media Veto)

Since at least 2009, Democrats have branded the GOP as the “party of no.” This claim has some basis in fact but it was also used as lazy shorthand nearly every time Republicans opposed the actions of a progressive President, as if that were somehow unusual. Opposition parties do tend to oppose after all.

With Republicans recapturing the Senate Tuesday, they now have the opportunity to turn that argument on its head. Appearing on Fox News Tuesday, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney made this point:

People are tired of gridlock and they’re tired of the agenda of President Obama…They’re going to expect that the House will pass bills, which by the way they already have, some 370 bills. Some of them will come to the Senate and actually be acted upon, and they’ll reach the president’s desk And the president will sign some, and he’ll probably veto some. We’ll know who then is the party of no.

It’s not just Republicans who think this is likely. Over at the Washington Post, Paul Waldman argues that there is little Republicans can hope to accomplish so long as Obama remains in office. What they can do is use the leadership of Congress to change the argument about obstructionism.

[Republicans] have to pass bills, and bills that have at least a surface
plausibility to them, even if they know full well the bills will be
vetoed by President Obama. That means not a bill to repeal the
Affordable Care Act, but a bill to, say, repeal the employer mandate. When
those kinds of bills get filibustered by Senate Democrats or vetoed by
President Obama, Republicans will say, “See, we’ve shown we can govern.
President Obama is the one preventing things from getting done.” The
ability to actually pass bills through both houses, no matter how
unrealistic and doomed from the start, will allow McConnell and Boehner
to weave a new narrative in which President Obama is the obstructionist.
And I’m guessing the press will buy it.

Waldman’s last line makes it sound like Republican bills are really just a wooden nickel which the media may choose to accept at face value. In fact, a bill passed by both the House and Senate is, by definition, a real bill. There is nothing fake about it. And if the President chooses to veto some of those bills, then he has in fact become an obstructionist President. The obvious appeal of this strategy is that it only need rely on people seeing what is actually happening for it to work.

That said, I’m not as certain that the media with “buy it” as Waldman seems to be (and even he seems shaky). After five years of reporting that Republicans are the “party of no” it would be pretty amazing if this language suddenly disappeared from the public lexicon. And yet, once President Obama is on the wrong end of the argument, that could happen. As a strategy, the “President of no” has the same flaw as every Republican strategy: It only works if the media doesn’t choose to exercise it’s own veto.