President Obama has embarked upon what the media, with rather suspicious uniformity, describe as a “charm offensive” to win over Republican support – or perhaps his goal could be more accurately described as weakening Republican resistance. In the assessment of Ron Fournier of National Journal, it’s not off to a very encouraging start:
He is dining with Republicans after advisers openly mocked suggestions that he do so. He is visiting Capitol Hill after telling aides that such a gesture was beneath him and the dignity of his office. And, as an ultimate indignity, he is talking to reporters. What’s gotten into President Obama?
A better question might be what has left the president – and the answer would be: Much of his political capital.
Obama’s sudden burst of public outreach coincides with a drop in his approval ratings, noted first by Democratic pollsters advising the White House last week and now surfacing in a spate of public polls. This raises the uncomfortable question: Is this schmooze-a-thon a legitimate act of humility and leadership or a cynical public display?
I can’t answer that question because I don’t pretend to know Obama’s state of mind. I can tell you that some of his advisers are no more convinced that this strategy will work than they were a few days ago.
“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”
Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”
Rarely has an effort at “charm” been mixed with such a heavy dose of bitter spite… and it’s interesting that this “senior White House official” directed his venom more at the media than Republicans. The Obama White House teems with spoiled brats who can’t handle a world in which the media is only 90 percent behind them. These people would go utterly mad if forced to compete on the media landscape available to a Republican president.
Among the polls alluded to by Fournier is a new survey from McClatchy News and Marist, which saw Obama at only 45 percent overall job approval, 48 percent personal popularity, and slightly behind the otherwise hated Congress on the subject of deficit reduction, 42-44. Since he’s been safely re-elected, these might not seem like horrible numbers at first glance… but Obama’s strategy involves stockpiling personal approval and political capital, with an eye towards intimidating his opponents. A sudden 5-point drop in approval does a lot of damage to such a strategy.
Losing control of the Sequester Terror narrative clearly rattled the White House. Plan A was to intimidate Republicans into accepting tax increases with the threat of sequestration in 2011; Plan B was to blame them for the mind-shattering horrors of “austerity” in 2013; there is no Plan C, so we’re getting the “charm offensive.”
Unfortunately for Obama, the early move in this offensive seemed to involve recruiting Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham as ambassadors, and that hasn’t worked well, because they marched right into the teeth of Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster and alienated a sizable chunk of the Republican electorate. (How would things be going if Obama’s dinner with McCain, Graham, and other GOP senators had proceeded on schedule, but Rand Paul hadn’t taken the Washington stage?)
It’s important not to overestimate how closely the disaffected general electorate is following all this. Obama is still probably the only player they recognize on sight. They’re not going to pore over the fine details of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. But they seem to have a general sense that Obama got his tax increases already, and it’s time for him to respond with those spending cuts he’s always promising. And they’re turned off by his sequestration theatrics, especially the petty little stuff, like shutting down White House tours – an astounding miscalculation.
The general outlines of this story are familiar, as most re-elected Presidents tend to overestimate their position. (Maybe they’d be less likely to make this mistake if they took a long, honest look at the percentages they won by, how many voters supported the opponent, and how many people didn’t even bother to vote.) But it’s remarkable how far, and how fast, Obama the Destroyer has fallen. And if he’d been able to divorce himself from blind tax-raising, big-spending ideology long enough to take one of the reasonable alternatives to spending cuts without sequestration, he might be riding pretty high right about how.