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February 26, 2010
White House strategy backfires as GOP rules the summit
A couple of weeks ago, President Obama attended a GOP retreat in Baltimore and engaged several Republicans in conversation about several issues. While the GOP didn't come off looking half as bad as the media reported, there is little doubt that the president was better prepared, more at ease, and gave the impression that he was in total control of the event.
By contrast, Republicans looked less prepared, more petulant, and less knowledgeable of the issues.
It is almost a certainty that the White House was going for a repeat performance at the health care summit yesterday. But the Republicans had learned their lessons. They came very prepared to argue with the Democrats on the substantive differences between them, and Leaders McConnell and Boehner did a great job in choosing an excellent team (for the most part) who ran rhetorical rings around the Democrats.
In contrast, it was the president's turn to look ill at ease - sometimes even contemptuous of his foes. And while the president once again had facts and figures at his fingertips, his team members were a disgrace. They substituted emotionalism for logic and reason by relating health insurance horror stories designed to make the GOP look like heartless monsters. That sort of thing might work in a campaign commercial, but when placed against the devastating comebacks offered by the Republicans, it sounded silly.
As we have seen at his now rare press conferences, the president appears to get angry when someone challenges him or corrects him on the facts. His dismissal of John McCain's reminders of his campaign pledge for openness and transparency, was typical. "The campaign is over," he sneered. McCain tried to lighten the barb by responding "I'm reminded of that every day." Obama gave McCain a baleful stare and arrogantly reproached him for his reliance on "talking points."
Indeed, the president could have criticized his own team for relying on fluff instead of substance. Rep. Paul Ryan absolutely took the president to school on how idiotic his statements about health insurance reform cutting the cost of health care truly are. Ryan's 6 minute dissertation on the budget and deficits might be a little too wonky for most, but there is little doubt that this fellow knows his stuff backwards and forwards.
In contrast, the Democrats threw out nonsensical figures like trying to pawn off as incontrovertible fact a Harvard study that shows 45,000 Americans a year die because they have no health care. They also threw around completely bogus numbers as far as how much the bill would cost. Nancy Pelosi even claimed that if passed, the bill would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. This despite the fact that most of the bill's provisions don't even kick in for 4 years.
The Washington Post's Michael Gerson comments on the "stature gap:"
There was a stature gap in the room, but not between Obama and the Republicans (as at the House Republican retreat). The stature gap was between Obama and his fellow Democrats. I would bet against any legislative team that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who turned in a nasty, embarrassing performance.
David Gergen , not always kind to the GOP, had glowing words for the Republican effort, calling it the GOP's "Best day in Years"
Other media reaction was also surprisingly positive for Republicans:
There is no doubt now -as if there were any before the summit - that the Democrats are going to try for reconciliation in the senate. The GOP will do everything in their power to stop it. There may even be some sympathy from a few senate Democrats like Byrd, Rockefeller, Feingold and a few others who have expressed the fear that the parliamentary maneuver could backfire if the GOP ever took control of the senate again. But when push comes to shove, they will probably side with Reid and vote for reform.
How many Democrats want to walk the plank and vote for this bill? Perhaps enough to defeat it even with reconciliation.