There was a notion late, late, late on election night where the pundits starting talking about the Republican’s need to compromise with the President. “They just lost the White House, they lost seats in the Senate and the House, they are losing the demographic race…they have to come to the table.”
I feel a nightmare coming on…
A cursory look at the strategic position for Republicans, and their choices (both strategic and tactical) over the last 4 years, reveals little reason for optimism. Conservatives have leverage over liberals and their reaffirmed leader, President Obama, in the form of the sequester. The sequester is the package of budget cuts totaling $1.2 trillion that take effect in January and would, with absolute certainty, restart the recession.
For reference, the collapse of the housing bubble siphoned around $560 billion per year in annual demand from the economy. The sequester would amount to around 20% of that…more than enough, in the context of a struggling Eurozone, to sap the recovery of its momentum. The specter of such a collapse, according to the hopeful pundits, is enough to drive the country-first Republicans to the bargaining table.
Except that in 2009, with the nation at the peak of The Great Recession and the newly inaugurated President offering compromise his own party couldn’t stand, a grand total of 3 country-first Republicans sat down at the table. The stated goal of the party then, was to destroy President Obama as a viable political franchise, and so destroy the rebounding Democrat’s best lever for change. In the last 4 years, conservatives have expended virtually all of their political credibility, and gone to extremes rarely witnessed in American politics. They are deeply invested, not in the success of America, but the failure of their opposition.
If Democrats had retaken the House, conservatives could have looked on the investment as sunk cost, and moved forward in rebuilding their image. In the current construction, the best strategic course for conservatives is to double down on the obstruction, and bring on the double-dip recession. It would be impossible for Democrats to decouple from the job losses and cuts to domestic-based defense programs. The economics that explain these events is beyond the time commitment of working Americans, and beyond the comprehension of the mostly lazy political reporter class.
This means further erosion of the House Democratic Caucus and the loss of the Senate in 2014. That reality would allow republicans to force the President into unpopular vetoes, and guarantee a Republican White House winner in 2016. The only risk for Republicans is the somewhat unlikely scenario that Americans see through the plan, and hold the GOP to account in the next election. But history is little reason for optimism; moderates left the President’s party in the 2010 midterms, and liberals spent most of the run-up to that election complaining about the absence of a Presidential policy miracle. Then liberals sat on their hands in the election itself.
I hope I am wrong; what is more, I hope those conservatives in the House who genuinely care (in a different way than I) about the country step up and prevent this. What we need now, is 30 courageous conservatives willing to allow defense spending to flatten first, then decline, and willing to allow top marginal rates to rise to Clinton levels. Democrats have already moved far from their starting positions. I suppose it is possible, but I don’t see the strategic justification for the move.
The Rational Middle will explore the notion of bipartisanship in Thursday’s post…