Contingency plans

CONTINGENCY PLANS…. Jon Chait ponders a scenario I’ve been kicking around.

I’m not saying the economy will recover or that Obama will stay popular. Quite possibly, four years from now we could still be mired in a worldwide depression and Obama could be facing dismal — who knows, even Bush-like — popularity ratings. The world is unpredictable. But isn’t there a pretty decent chance that the economy will have recovered, and Obama’s policies will look fairly wise in retrospect? Do Republicans want to make any political plans for this contingency?

The answer, I suspect, is “no.” In fact, I’m not even sure if the GOP has given itself any feasible options.

If Obama remains popular, Republicans assume that Democratic congressional candidates will do fairly well and the president will win a second term in 2012. If conditions deteriorate and Obama’s popularity crumbles, Republicans assume that they’ll be well positioned to take advantage.

In this dynamic, there’s no upside to cooperating with the president, because there’s minimal payoff. Republicans are limited to a strategy based entirely on “hope” — hope that the country is worse off, hope that the president fails, hope that voters see the GOP as a credible alternative should everything fall apart.

I’m not even sure what choice the party has. One path has Republicans growing up, rediscovering the benefits of taking policy matters seriously, presenting a sane agenda, and engaging in good-faith cooperation with the majority on key policy measures. This probably wouldn’t do much to bring down the president, but it would position the GOP to present itself as a reasonable, mainstream alternative. Under this scenario, many who left the Republican Party might be willing to give it a second look, which would give the GOP stronger long-term prospects.

But the party is almost certain to ignore this path, in large part because the shrunken party base won’t consider it.

So they’re left with several eggs, one basket, and no contingency plans in the event of Obama success.