If Barack Obama wins re-election, Republicans will accept the fruitlessness of strategic obstruction. Unencumbered by the imperative to defeat Obama, who will be a lame duck president anyhow, they will begin to work with him on matters of urgent importance to the country.
That’s the White House’s operating theory, anyhow. In their words, the GOP’s fever will break. Or, as Obama himself recently put it, the “blister” will pop, and a new birth of good will will ooze forth into our politics.
There’s just one problem with the theory. Republicans and conservative thought leaders both openly say Democrats are kidding themselves. Even if Obama wins, the GOP is prepared to stymie him all over again — unless he more or less adopts a Republican governing agenda. Some have even used the promise of ongoing obstruction as an argument for a Romney president: Better to let us run the whole show than to keep government divided, because we won’t work with Obama if that happens.
It’s a brazen admission, and one the White House doesn’t really have an answer for.
“If Obama wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving right, not left,” observes Ramesh Ponnuru, a well-connected conservative writer, in a Bloomberg op-ed Monday. “It will become less likely to compromise with Obama, not more.”
Part of the reason, the argument goes, is that an Obama victory would likely coincide with GOP gains in the Senate — possibly even a GOP Senate takeover. That will leave Republicans just as empowered to block action on Obama’s key initiatives — balanced deficit reduction, immigration reform — as they are right now, and able to argue that the voting public gave them just as much of a mandate to govern as they did Obama.
The other, less specious reason is that the GOP has never accepted the Democratic Party’s entitlement to govern, even after enormous, unambiguous victories.
“Obama suggested that Republicans would feel pressure ‘to cooperate on a balanced package’ on the budget: that is, one with tax increases,” Ponnuru writes. “Republicans famously failed to react to their drubbing in 2008 — after which, let’s recall, Time magazine was running cover stories on their impending extinction — by softening their line on anything. Why would they react that way after an election that goes better for them?”
If Obama wins, his ability to govern will “depend on whether Obama has an epiphany,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Huffington Post last week.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Beyond the results of the election itself, the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts and all of the cuts to domestic and defense spending that are set to kick in early next year put additional pressures on both sides that could force a deal on the budget that includes new revenue in this winter’s lame duck session, or early in Obama’s second term.
But even that assumption may be misplaced if the Republican Party sees its long-term interests best protected from lock-step opposition to Obama throughout a second term.
The best indicator of where this is headed may be the GOP openly announcing that he can expect no cooperation.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.