House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) popped a surprise on the Republican Conference in their January 20 meeting. President Obama had accepted his invitation to appear at their Baltimore retreat scheduled for January 29, two days after the State of the Union speech.
According to several dismayed conservative members that attended the meeting and sought me out in the two days that followed, North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx asked Boehner whose idea it was and was told it was “the leadership.” When Foxx pressed him on precisely who among the leadership came up with the idea, Boehner demurred. So what is the point to the invitation?
Boehner’s high-risk strategy apparently is to engage the newly-weakened president on Republican alternatives on health care and the economy in the hope that he will admit that the ideas are worth including in his 2010 agenda. If he does so publicly, it will be a huge Republican win. But if he doesn’t — and Obama is too smart to fall into this obvious trap — Republican ideas will again be cast aside and Obama’s agenda revived.
Boehner’s invitation to Obama is a setback. It gives the president an opportunity to orient the debate away from Republican ideas and maintain control of the media battlefield.
Fresh in conservatives’ minds are Obama’s few visits with them last year. In a White House meeting shortly after his inauguration, Republicans challenged Obama’s stimulus plans. His answer still rings in their ears: “I won.” In Obama’s trip to the Hill to meet with Republicans early last year, the president made clear his idea of bipartisanship was Republican surrender, not compromise.
For all the panic Senate Democrats voiced at Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts (as if Republicans suddenly had a 49-51 Senate majority), neither the president nor his re-formed White House team is deterred.
Obama isn’t backing down. His health care “reform” bill isn’t dead. Well, it may be dead, but because no one has yet driven a stake through its heart, it’s still very much an Obama priority. Obama is revising his strategy to win not only on health care but also on ensuring taxes will rise next year. He’s also stuck on stupid, still committed to the global warmists’ pride and joy, the “cap and trade” idea that will cause energy prices to skyrocket.
Obama isn’t ignoring the Scott Brown win. The most radical liberal on his team — White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — is apparently being marginalized. Emanuel’s in-your-face hyperliberalism didn’t work, so Obama is elevating campaign strategist David Plouffe and increasingly relying on David Axelrod, his chief White House political advisor. Which means Emanuel’s scowling hyperliberalism will still be Obama’s policy, but now will be marketed with a smiley-face paste-over.
Obama is adapting to the new situation. The question is, will Republicans? The omens aren’t good.
Republicans are still recovering from the devastating losses in 2008. Any political party suffering that kind of loss goes through a natural selection process in which a hard-fought competition results in the rise of one or more new leaders. Republicans began that process in 2009, but it’s not yet producing the leaders who can create the national campaigns that will win this year and in 2012. Time is running out. Those who will be the leaders this year and two years from now cannot be reluctant to divorce themselves publicly from actions such as Boehner’s invitation to Obama.
But Wednesday night’s State of the Union speech may be the tipping point, because the Republican answer to it won’t be controlled by the Republican establishment.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will give the Republican response to Obama’s speech. McDonnell — as solid a conservative as anyone could want — ran a campaign that should become the Republican template for 2010. Calm, competent conservatism is McDonnell’s brand. Scott Brown was smart enough to adapt it to Massachusetts and win by running against Obama’s health care plan and reckless spending. On Wednesday night, the contrast will be quite stark.
We have a partial preview of Obama’s speech in yesterday’s Washington Post op-ed by David Plouffe. Plouffe insists on passing Obamacare and defends Obama’s failed economic stimulus and the rest of the president’s spending spree. Plouffe warns Democrats against “bed wetting,” writing that, “…let’s prove that we have more than just the brains to govern — that we have the guts to govern. Let’s fight like hell, not because we want to preserve our status, but because we sincerely believe too many everyday Americans will continue to lose if Republicans and special interests win.”
McDonnell shouldn’t just reject Obamacare and insist that continuing high unemployment rates prove Obama’s approach to the economy is just more tax and spend liberalism. It is all that, but McDonnell needs to ram home other points, mostly on national security.
Obama’s actions — from radically cutting the investment in new weapon systems such as the F-22 to closing Gitmo to putting the underwear bomber into the civilian criminal justice system — increase the dangers we face. Obama believes terrorism is a crime, not an act of war. He — and his Defense chief Bob Gates — believe that we need not protect ourselves from other threats and that the days of conventional war are over. They ignore China’s rapid military growth, Iran’s nuclear weapons program and North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. They abandoned Poland’s missile defense on the anniversary of the Soviet conquest of the Polish nation.
And, perhaps most importantly, Obama and Pelosi are at war with our intelligence community on which our safety from terrorist attack depends entirely.
Their faith is placed in those such as Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. Blair, under questioning last week about the decision to give the underwear bomber his Miranda warnings instead of subjecting him to intelligence agency questioning slapped his forehead in a Homer Simpsonesque “d’oh” moment. You have to see it to believe it.
If McDonnell plays it right — and there’s no reason to think he won’t — he, not Obama, will be the most wanted campaign trail companion in the 2010. This is how leaders arise.
Cartoon by Brett Noel.