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No Hat. No Rabbit. Just Bad Theater: The President Decides To Punish His Opponents

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All of the Beltway’s great “Who will get blamed for the fiasco” debate has the feel of a movie scene wherein two characters are talking about a third who then objects “I’m right here. I can hear you.”

All of the country can hear the president, Congressional leaders and the pundit class jawing over who will get blamed for the coming meltdown that will result because –wait for it– taxes are going to rise too much and spending isn’t going to get cut. No wonder the just re-elected president has an approval rating just above 50%. This absurd brinksmanship has the feel of Richard Nixon’s demand for at least a pro forma resignation of every Cabinet member just after his genuinely big win in 1972: An unnecessary, but costly display of authority.

It is increasingly clear that the president has no interest in a deal, but seems to be intent on punishing the GOP leadership and especially the Speaker and Senate GOP Leader who forced him into a compromise after the 2010 elections. The president thinks he can discredit his political opponents by going “over the cliff,” and he will probably conclude it will be to the GOP’s disadvantage if there is another debt limit crisis and perhaps even government shutdowns in the months ahead. His cheering section in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite will be urging him on and trapping him in an echo chamber, but a lot of the GOP will be hearing the same, very narrow band of elite opinion makers’ collective fretting and finger-pointing and the president is hoping the Speaker will panic and fold.

At which point the Tea Party 2.0 will be back because the country that pays attention more than one day every four years can indeed hear the political class talking about it like some mass of morons, and doesn’t like what it hears already, and will like it even less after many months or even two years of condescending blather.

The GOP leadership should take seriously Guy Benson’s suggestion that they cleave to Simpson Bowles and leave it at that. “That’s our compromise and we are stickin’ to it. By the way, it was your compromise Mr. President.” The chattering class loved Simpson Bowles, and every departure from its specifics the president wants can be negotiated for more protection for the military.

Short. Simple. A defensible line. And a stratgey for responding to a president who has no intention of really negotiating or of getting to a deal that does anything except punish his opponents. Welcome to the next four years. Get used to the political equivalent of trench warfare. The president has used the two weeks since his re-election to tell us his second term will be the same as the first. He still doesn’t get the idea that the Constitution has divided power among co-equal branches, and that the Congress is not his agency and the Speaker is not his messenger to an unruly group of malcontents.

Republicans' Ace in the Hole: Simpson-Bowles?

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