Is the GOP a rudderless ship?

Departing White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer, in an interview with New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, explains how Obama lost his innocence and realized he can’t negotiate with Republicans:

“ … The original premise of Obama’s first presidential campaign was that he could reason with Republicans—or else, by staking out obviously reasonable stances, force them to moderate or be exposed as extreme and unyielding. It took years for the White House to conclude that this was false, and that, in Pfeiffer’s words, ‘what drives 90 percent of stuff is not the small tactical decisions or the personal relationships but the big, macro political incentives.’

“If you had to pinpoint the moment this worldview began to crystallize, it would probably be around the first debt-ceiling showdown, in 2011, when Obama tried repeatedly and desperately to cut a budget deal with House Speaker John Boehner only to realize, eventually, that Boehner did not have the power to negotiate.

1386828581627.cached“The administration has now decided that in many cases, even adversarial bargaining fails because the Republican leadership is not capable of planning tactically. ‘You have to be careful not to presume a lot of strategy for this group,’ Pfeiffer said. ‘I’ve always believed that the fundamental, driving strategic ethos of the Republican House leadership has been, What do we do to get through the next caucus or conference without getting yelled at? We should never assume they have a long game. We used to spend a lot of time thinking that maybe Boehner is saying this to get himself some more room. And it’s like, no, that’s not actually the case. Usually he’s just saying it because he just said it or it’s the easiest thing to solve his immediate problem.’

“This analysis puts the administration at odds with the reading of American politics that still dominates much of Washington reporting. Many political journalists imagine that the basic tension for the White House lies between Obama’s liberal base and appealing to Americans at the center, who will be crucial for tipping elections. Pfeiffer believes the dynamic is, in fact, the opposite: ‘The incentive structure moves from going after the diminishing middle to motivating the base.’

“Ever since Republicans took control of the House four years ago, attempts to court Republicans have mostly failed while simultaneously dividing Democratic voters. Obama’s most politically successful maneuvers, by contrast, have all been unilateral and liberal.

“‘Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action,’ Pfeiffer said, ‘whether that’s the president’s endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president’s approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?’ And yet this hesitation has always proved overblown: ‘There’s never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.’ … ”

Which raises a question: Is anyone leading the GOP, or are they just a howling mob?


Comments are closed.