GOP Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell drew much derision for falling flat in fulfilling his oft repeated goal to make President Obama a one-term president.
Obama’s smash electoral vote and solid popular vote win made the GOP’s aim seem more comical. The fiscal cliff battle seemed to render it even more absurd.
Obama was the big winner. He preserved the Bush tax cuts for the middle and working class, got a big portion of cuts scrapped for the highest income earners, took Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid off the budget slice table, delayed debate on proposed draconian GOP budget cuts that will slam the poor and needy, and delayed the battle over the debt ceiling.
But that was just the opening shot of what the GOP loudly claims will be a bitter fight to stymie President Obama’s second term presidency. The GOP is under even more intense pressure from ultra conservatives who have screamed at those GOP congresspersons for supposedly giving too much away to Obama in the fiscal cliff debate and not taking the hardest line stance they could against deals.
GOP House leaders reeling from the criticism say they won’t even consider talking with Obama behind closed doors in the future to try to iron out their differences. McConnell went further and couched his war-like challenge to Obama as a battle to save the nation’s future.
The GOP has several formidable weapons to hammer Obama. One is its power to say no in Congress. It has done that repeatedly in the Senate on one issue that has flown under the public’s radar. It has refused to confirm legions of Obama’s judicial appointees. He’s had fewer of his judicial picks confirmed than any first-term president in the last quarter century. That includes even district court nominees.
In years past, their confirmation has been routine. The GOP has given no hint that it will reverse course and approve many of his picks in the future. Conservative judges have already shown they can obstruct Obama administration policies with their anti-environmental, anti-gun control and pro-corporate rulings. GOP leaders also showed that they will harass, harangue and try to intimidate Obama on his cabinet picks.
The GOP’s assault on the possible nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was a prime example of that. Rice’s withdrawal from consideration under pressure will only embolden the GOP to use the tactic to constantly send the message that it has the political muscle to get some of its way on public policy issues, and to keep the Obama administration off balance. Its next target will be Chuck Hagel, Obama’s pick for Secretary of Defense.
The GOP also can delay and obstruct implementation and funding of health care reforms, tax and budget proposals, and regulatory reforms that still need bipartisan cooperation to pass. This is crucial since Obama needs to strike deals and make compromises with the GOP to get anything done in Congress. That necessity is even more compelling given the coming, potentially rancorous battle over the debt ceiling, immigration reform, spending cuts, and reforms of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
A prolonged war with the GOP that results in the White House getting little or none of its legislative agenda through Congress runs the risk of souring public opinion not just on the GOP but the White House. This has been the bane of other presidents during their second term and has marred their legacy.
Then there’s the power of money. Since many well-heeled corporate bankrolled candidates went down to defeat in the presidential election, some saw this as a grand rejection of the corporate, banking and wealthy ultra-conservative bankrollers ability to buy their way into office with their handpicked conservative candidates.
That is a wrong read. Money will continue to be a potent weapon at the GOP’s disposal. The astronomical cost of winning an office virtually assures that. The difference will be that in future elections, the GOP will be more selective and prudent about the conservatives that its campaign financiers bankroll.
The GOP’s greatest weapon is the frozen political divide in the country. Nearly 50 percent of the nation’s voters not only did not support Obama, but expressed total contempt for his policies and his administration. The GOP banks that it can swivel this divisiveness into sustained opposition to those policies, and that it can buy enough time with that until the 2014 midterm elections and further boost its numbers in the House and especially the Senate.
The 2012 election defeat did not in any way sate the GOP’s thirst to regain its dominance in national politics and that includes its ultimate goal of winning back the White House. If it can succeed in tarring Obama as a failed president, then it cynically calculates that will make that goal much easier to attain.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.