Some Republicans concluded that the only thing wrong with Tea Party ideas were that they hadn’t been advocated with enough conviction and implemented with enough enthusiasm. Others argued that the problem with the party was that it showed a harsh, uncompromising face to a country desperate for a comforting, compromising outlook. Almost all of them maintained that the party’s identity depended upon an unwavering opposition to new taxes.
At first the Republicans looked intransigent: the party of no. Then late last year, battered, they agreed to raise taxes. But rather than seem flexible and responsible — any halfway good public-relations firm could have made that case easily — they now seem confused and unfocused.
And while it is possible to argue that the Republicans have bent more than the Democrats since the election, they still are regarded as the stubborn party in this struggle. This is not an easy task, but they have accomplished it.
The case against the Democrats
Obama won the election and claimed a second-term mandate the public might not have conferred upon him. Ordinarily this might not be toxic, but the low point of his first term was when he reminded Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia of what he already knew: that Obama was president and the then-GOP minority whip was not, and that elections (here he was speaking of his first victory, in 2008) had consequences.
Translated into English that meant: I won, you lost, get in line, Buster.
That was maybe not the best negotiating tactic for a president whose engagement in direct negotiations is a part-time thing and who might have blamed the economic crisis on his predecessor for a bit too long, perhaps forgetting that he asked for the job of president.
The Democrats profited for a few years by portraying their rivals as obstructionists, failing to recognize that their convictions were as strongly held and as deeply rooted as the Democrats’. Just last week Obama, on a dining spree, invited some Republican senators out for supper, the White House emphasizing that the event was at a neutral site. This was a very good impulse and a very bad explanation.