Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Three Ways To Play Obama

Many Republicans I speak to are frustrated with the inability of their representatives in Congress to present a coherent strategy and consistent messaging in their battle with President Obama on the budget, Obamacare and the debt limit ceiling.

Those who read BeeLine know that I have presented very different ideas and approaches on how I would have conducted the negotiations.  On the other hand, I hesitate to criticize the Republicans in Washington for anything they have done for the simple reason that it is hard to develop a cohesive strategy when you have a couple hundred individuals who all think they know best.

The President always has an enormous advantage in developing a communication strategy.  Not many in the President's party are going to cross him.  Or stake out an alternative position.  Therefore, it is relatively easy for the President and his party to look like he is control and the opposing party to look disorganized.

You will see me throw no stones.  What is past is done.  What is important is what are the next moves the Republicans can make right now.  Of course, what is most important is that they stay and stick together.  I can't help but be reminded of Benjamin Franklin's famous statement that he made shortly after our other Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.

"We must hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately."

Here are the three ways that I would play Obama right now.

First, President Obama's biggest vulnerability is his seeming unwillingness to have a conversation or negotiate with the Republicans.  His attitude is it is "my way or the highway".  On other hand, the Republicans are being portrayed as being unreasonable and "crazy".

My suggestion is that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell announce that they are going to rent a room at the Willard Hotel in Washington, midway between the Capitol and The White House, and state they will be there tomorrow at 10am to have a conversation with the President about resolving the government shutdown and the debt ceiling.  If President Obama does not meet them they will return the next day.  And the next day. And the day after.  And the day after that.  Weekends included.

The Willard Hotel

The Republicans need to show they are ready to talk and resolve the issues.  They need to show that they are reasonable and willing to meet and go the extra mile to do that. The President will either show that he is willing or not.

This strategy also creates a media opportunity every day for the Republicans.  Showing up at The Willard would have to be covered every day by the media.  If Obama did not show, the Republicans would have the cameras and microphones to further their message.

I can't imagine that Obama could ignore this for more than a couple of days.  He simply could not afford to look like he is not willing to at least have a conversation.

Second, I would put a gigantic timeline on a wall somewhere in the Capitol that had two timelines, one on top of the other.  

The  top timeline would show the 1,347 days it took for the United States to win World War II.  It would begin with Pearl Harbor and end with V-J Day.  In between it would include all of the significant milestones of the war-Guadalcanal, Midway, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Okinawa.

Right below would be a timeline for the Obamacare implementation's 1,379 days.  It would begin with the signing of the law (March 23, 2010) and end at December 31, 2013 (the day before Obamacare takes effect).  In between I would show all of the waivers, exemptions, glitches and gaffes.  Every one.

I think it is important to visually show the difference between an effort where all Americans worked together compared to the division and disruption that President Obama and the Democrats have brought upon us with this highly partisan, poorly conceived and profoundly flawed implementation.

I would use these timelines as a backdrop every time any Republican spoke to the press or was interviewed on television.  I would have them mention it in every interview that we won WWII in less time than was given for Obamacare to be implemented.  And yet, we still have the disaster we see unfolding every day.  

I would have them add, "Why should we not just suspend the individual mandate for a year as President Obama already did for businesses?"  I would also have them add they don't understand why President Obama is so opposed to this since he was against an individual mandate when he ran for President."

Third, if I could not get President Obama to engage in discussions on the government shutdown before the debt ceiling limit is reached on October 17, I would be prepared to have the House Republicans pass a clean debt limit increase of $300 billion (enough to get us into early 2014) to demonstrate the Republicans are showing good faith even if the President is not.  

The fact is that I believe that most Americans think that everything that has transpired thus far has to do with the debt ceiling when, in fact, it has been about the Continuing Resolution on next year's budget.
Getting the debt ceiling issue out of the way temporarily should help the Republicans further simplify the issue for the American people that what is really in play here is Obama and the Democrats defending the indefensible as explained in this post.

I would also consider adding a trigger to increase the debt ceiling automatically by an amount to get beyond the 2014 elections if certain conditions were met.  Those conditions would be items the Republicans would like to see enacted and which there is broad popular support but which Obama and the Democrats have opposed.  For example, a requirement for voter ID (82% approval), approval of the Keystone Pipeline (66% support) and/or enactment of a Balanced Budget Amendment (65% support in the last poll that I saw).  Simply stated, the debt ceiling limit increase would be totally in control of President Obama and the Democrats before next year's mid-term elections.

The stronger party in any negotiation is the one that can live with the status quo. Who needs the deal more?  President Obama took his hard line position in this "negotiation" on his assumption that the Republicans needed the deal more.  He believed he would have the media on his side and he could effectively place the blame on the Republicans so that they would have to blink.

The Republicans did not help their cause originally because they asked for too much.  They played into Obama's hand. The Republicans are now playing the right hand with a very reasonable request but the public is too confused to understand it.  That is why the GOP needs to hammer away at my first and second points above.  They need to look reasonable and they need to show how poorly Obamacare has been implemented given the time allowed.

The Republicans are also at a point of no return.  People have had disapproval ratings of Congress for a long time.  They cannot go much lower.  However, Obama could lose a lot of ground.  He is already down to a 37% approval rating-his lowest of his Presidency. And as he loses ground it damages the entire Democrat brand.  In addition. if the Republicans give at this point they will lose in a very big way with their conservative base.  They really do need to hang together or they will assuredly hang separately with their base.

They absolutely need to walk away from this having gotten something significant from Obama on the government shutdown.  And on this matter they seem to be in a stronger position on living with the current status quo.  Aside from the blame game, the Democratic constituency is hurt much more by the government shutdown.  Thousands of federal government employees (a majority of which vote Democrat) are out of work, and the EPA, the IRS and scores of federal agencies have less ability to regulate the lives of the American public.  This does not sound like a Republican problem.

At this point President Obama's hand appears to be getting weaker every day. Obamacare is not going well.  The press is picking up new horror stories every day.  If this continues it will be harder and harder to argue against a delay or suspension of the individual mandate.  In addition, each day those federal workers are getting more upset.

The pettiness and political posturing of the Obama administration in dealing with the shutdown is also hurting them.  WWII vets being turned away from the WWII Memorial. The families of soldiers killed in action not getting death benefits. Volunteers who want to mow grass on federal property being turned away. The Park Service trying to block the view of Mt. Rushmore from a state highway.  Illegal immigrants are given access to protest on the National Mall but regular citizens are not allowed to walk across it. What is this?  Is government supposed to be used as a vindictive tool to inflict unnecessary harm on its people?  That does not sound like the United States of America.  It does sound like despotism.

The way to play with Obama is to put him in a position where he has to make some plays of his own.  He doesn't seem to like to get on the field.  He seems to be comfortable standing on the sideline telling everyone else how to play the game.  

It is time to get him in the game.

It is time the Republicans starting calling better plays.

And it is time to see what kind of defense Obama can play when you bring the game to him.

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