The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t Ted Cruz or John Boehner who caused the latest Republican crushing defeat. It was President Obama steadfastly saying no.
The seeds of the most embarrassing Republican defeat in decades were planted when congressional Republicans and their corporate billionaires made the mistake of misjudging President Obama’s character.
Republicans have long been torn on Obama. Republicans alternate between paranoid visions of the president as some sort of socialist superman who is out to destroy America, and the idea that the president is a weak and inept bumbler. When the Koch brothers and congressional Republicans got together in January to plot their government shutdown strategy, they fatally made the decision that Obama could be bullied. This would turn out to be their greatest miscalculation.
Jim DeMint, Ted Cruz, and the right wing billionaires knew that they could bully Boehner and the House leadership. They spent the month of August doing exactly that through a series of pressure tactics and political ads. (Cruz and DeMint tried the same strategy in the Senate, but all they got for their efforts was a whole lot of new enemies within their own party.) After they had successfully deposed John Boehner as Speaker of the House, the Cruz coup machine thought that they could easily bend the President of the United States to their will by threatening to destroy the economy.
Sen. Cruz stuck to this gameplan until the very end. Cruz thought that he could splinter the Democratic Party by targeting red state Democrats with a tidal wave of anti-ACA outrage. It was going to be 2010 all over again. Once the red state Democrats cried for mercy, the Democratic Party would fracture, and Obama would weakly sign the death certificate for his own signature legislative achievement.
The Cruz fantasy was based on the caricature of President Obama that is prevalent in conservative media. However, the real Obama, like most second term incumbents, had grown into and mastered the power of the presidency. Unbound from concerns about reelection, President Obama was free to do the one that he was not able to do in 2011. Barack Obama was free to say no.
If Obama would have said no back in 2011 and caused the nation to default, we would be talking about President Romney today. What Cruz and company never comprehended was that once President Obama won reelection, the scales of power tipped. A group of House Republicans assumed that they held all the cards. After all, they controlled whether or not the government stayed open and if the nation defaulted. They assumed that President Obama would have to see this and give in.
President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid saw the opposite. They viewed this as a disincentive to give the Republicans anything. As soon as the House Republicans made harming the ACA their top demand, the Democratic Party expressed a solitary resolve and said no, but the president had the power to override them and make a deal.
This president wouldn’t make a deal. He said no. He said no daily. He said no everytime that he was asked. The Republicans were stunned. They always assumed that President Obama would never play the game on their level. Obama was supposed to be an aloof president who liked to stay above the fray, but here he was saying no.
The government shutdown came, and Obama still said no. Days turned into weeks, and the president’s answer was always the same. He’d be happy to talk, but first the Republicans had to do their jobs by opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The president was never unreasonable, but he was unyielding.
President Obama was the backbone of the Democratic stance. Harry Reid and Senate Democrats were the heart, but Obama was the steel spine. Obama made the Republicans blink first and cave to his will.
President Obama deserves credit. Obama has redefined the perception of his presidency. He has made it clear that if Republicans want to shutdown the government in January or risk default in February 2014, he is going to make them pay a heavy political price.
The Republican Party has been damaged, crushed, and humiliated all because President Obama kept saying no.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association