Winning half the battle isn’t good enough

As rumors about the so-called “Grand Bargain” caused an uproar yesterday, I received an interesting email from a regular reader:

“Why would Obama snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? He was winning! Don’t throw in the towel when the other guy is on the ropes.”

Nate Silver had an item around the same time that struck a similar point (translated slightly from Twitterese):

“I feel like Obama is in a reverse-gravity underwear gnomes meme. (1) Win the public relations battle on the debt ceiling. (2) ???. (3) Capitulate.”

There’s obviously something to this. After months of head-spinning, soul-crushing debate, Democrats had the upper hand in the debt-ceiling fight. Americans are siding with Dems on raising the debt limit, seeking new revenue, and raising taxes on the wealthy. Republicans, meanwhile, are seen as unwilling to compromise, which happens to be true.

If a crisis unfolds, it would be the GOP that gets the blame, a point that’s not lost on the Republican leadership, most notably Mitch McConnell. The result is an unpopular party that’s isolated, divided, and viewed as needlessly extreme.

And President Obama is going to give in to these guys?

But it’s worth appreciating the fact that Obama only won half the battle, and in the larger context, it’s the half that doesn’t matter as much. The White House line — Congress has to do the right thing, and must adopt a responsible, balanced approach — won the day politically. But on Aug. 2, the United States will have exhausted its ability to pay its bills. Winning the public-relations fight is encouraging, but from Obama’s perspective, it doesn’t remove the looming threat that’s just 11 days away.

Part of the problem is that Republicans are losing the political fight, but don’t seem to care. It’s not as if the GOP’s Suicide Squad was starting to show signs of fatigue, and/or hinting at a willingness to give in. On the contrary, Republicans, especially in the House, are doing the opposite — digging in their heels, welcoming default, and rejecting calls to compromise.

Winning a public-relations battle is nice, but the president wants to avoid a catastrophe in less than two weeks. That means finding a solution and negotiating with a radicalized Republican Party that certainly seems willing to crash the economy on purpose.

That’s not to say Obama has been negotiating well. Indeed, if the reports are accurate, the president’s willingness to accept concessions goes way too far.

But some seem to have the impression that Obama can win the p.r. fight, use that as leverage, and wait for the GOP to fold. There’s no reason to think Republicans are or will be willing to fold, which makes some kind of compromise necessary.

This kind of compromise? I sure as hell hope not. But some kind of compromise.