The GOP Made a Bad Deal

Last night's budget compromise amounted to series of broken promises by the GOP, and it was a tremendous opportunity lost.  No matter what the accounting tricks and PR machinations say, the simple facts are that the GOP promised conservatives $100 billion in cuts, and didn't deliver.  Worse yet, the GOP misread its mandate for massive spending reform, and will suffer for it to the benefit of Democrats.  Here's why:

1.                  There's too much at stake.

This was last week's talking point -- one the GOP may have relinquished last night -- but it's impossible to underestimate the threat that that spending presents.   Blogger Ace of Spades captured things nicely in writing that even Rep. Ryan's proposed budget cuts are necessary, but hardly sufficient.

"If you believe that the GDP will start growing at a healthy rate and continue at that rate forever, and if you manage to reform Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and if you reform the budget process, and if you reform the tax code, and if you accomplish all these reforms in FY12, then you might be able to pay off this year's spending within 11 to 12 years. Or maybe the decade after.  This is what the President and his crackerjack economic team have wrought. A one-year deficit that is so large that it can only be paid back if everything goes exactly right."

In the broader "spending-us-into-oblivion" context, last night's compromise struck exactly the wrong note.  Forget "runaway spending."   Ever seen Unstoppable?

2.          President Clinton won the PR battle, but President Obama would lose.

Let's set aside the question of whether Bill Clinton's approval rating actually did benefit from the 1995 shutdown, the memories of which clearly haunted the GOP this week as a shutdown loomed.

By 1995, President Clinton was weakened -- but wasn't tainted and exposed to the extent that President Obama is.  President Obama isn't just weakened; he's weak.   Monday's announcement that KSM would, after all the dithering and delays, not be tried in a civilian court may prove to be as definitive a commentary on President Obama as President Reagan's face-off with the air traffic controllers union.   Peggy Noonan among others has written that Reagan transcended the strike itself and sent a message that "this guy means business."

For his part, President Obama's mish mash of cliché and indecision on Libya, KSM, the economy, and even ObamaCare -- the drafting of which he delegated to others -- has exposed him as an unprincipled bore.  This has left his base tattered and disillusioned, with independents fleeing Obama in droves. 

Heading into the budget fight, the Obama presidency was adrift, and obviously incapable of handling unscripted world events.  He also showed no capacity to deal seriously with spending.  He was perfectly vulnerable.  All of this should have emboldened the GOP, but instead they blinked.

3.          The GOP leadership is better equipped to deliver its message.

There may be "low information" voters who will be impervious to the GOP's public relations effort, and this presents a persistent risk to the GOP. 

But Rep. Mike Pence was correct when he pointed out that, unlike in 1995, the GOP today has" the internet, we have talk radio, we have an infrastructure to get our message out."  Let's not underestimate this; it's a genuine game-changer.  Newspapers are suffocating under the weight of their own bias and inability to keep pace with new media, and network news is a burnt ember, bordering on irrelevance.  And Rep. Pence didn't even mention Fox News Channel, which is, at a minimum, an antidote to CNN and MSNBC -- and what people are watching instead of NBC, CBS, and ABC. 

The undercurrents are also much different now than in 1995.  Greece and Ireland weren't bankrupt in 1995, and neither were New York, California, or Illinois.   Or  Portugal.  Most local governments weren't making draconian cuts, and unions were more or less carrying on with business as usual.   The debate in 1995 had the tone of a debate over principles, even abstractions; it was important, but today the debate involves the direct, day-to-day impacts we've all felt from reckless government spending.  America has awoken to grim reality, and a majority are prepared for a sea change in spending.

4.         The Tea Party Will be Dismayed.

As the saying goes, "Dance with the one that brung you."  The GOP owes much of its resurgence to the Tea Party, which is primarily a movement aimed precisely at government spending. 

But forget gratitude.  The GOP needs the Tea Party in 2012.   Independents will be critically important in 2012, but the GOP will not win the White House, or take the Senate, without a motivated base.  Independents won't matter if the GOP's base becomes disillusioned.   And given the current White House GOP field, the Tea Party may see GOP House Leadership as their motivation - or, if the leadership caves, disillusionment.   

Warts and all, the tea party is now part of the GOP's reality, but many will be disgusted by last night's deal.  This will prove to be a serious problem for the GOP.

See also: The GOP did just fine

William Lalor is a former Congressional campaign manager, and
in Manhattan and Executive Director of Repeal Obamacare PAC.