In 2009, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner decided their strategy to deal with Obama and the Democrats would be uncompromising obstructionism. This was a nearly unprecedented decision. They wouldn’t even work with Obama in areas where they could compromise and win incremental gains and then pick up the fight the next day, such as in the infamous Grand Bargain. In the short term, it seemed to work. Once Scott Brown defeated history’s most incompetent candidate to replace Ted Kennedy, Republicans could filibuster even though Democrats still controlled 59 votes. The wave election of 2010 then happened and it seemed like the fireeating strategy was a great success. But has it worked out for long-term Republican objectives? Oh god no.
But in addition to a tactical win for the left, Obama’s turnabout on Social Security is the result of a cycle of tactical ineptitude on the part of the American conservative movement.
Five years ago, conservatives had the opportunity to get a Democratic president to sign legislation that would have substantially cut entitlement spending. In exchange, they were asked to agree that high-income Americans should pay higher taxes. They refused, thinking in part that preventing Obama from scoring a bipartisan achievement would make him easier to beat in 2012.
Obama was reelected anyway. Taxes on high-income households went up anyway. And now the politics of entitlement spending have shifted drastically to the left. The Republican Party’s 2016 nominee says he opposes cuts in Social Security benefits, and mainstream Democrats have flipped away from Obama’s openness to cuts to the position that benefits should be enhanced.
It’s hard to see how historians will see Republican strategies to deal with Obama as anything but utterly disastrous. It won them nothing. And not only does the Republican Party nominee at least claim he opposes Social Security cuts, although he will sign anything Republicans send across his desk, but the let your freak flag fly strategy also unleashed horrible forces in the country that make their candidate almost certainly unelectable this fall (although obviously one can never tell). Republican policies on any number of issues are now extremely unpopular outside their even more extreme base. That’s not only on issues like gay marriage and birth control, but also on the economic conservatism at the core of traditional Republican values.
Good job Mitch and John.