How the opposition responds to its ‘unanticipated problem’

HOW THE OPPOSITION RESPONDS TO ITS ‘UNANTICIPATED PROBLEM’…. The NYT‘s John Harwood notes today that congressional Republicans are confronting an “unanticipated problem”: President Obama’s poll numbers have improved and he appears to have “regained political momentum.”

The question is what the GOP intends to do about it.

As Mr. Obama approaches the State of the Union address on Tuesday, various polls show him rising toward or beyond 50 percent approval of his job performance. Before his first 2011 clash with Republican adversaries who now share governing responsibility, those surveys also show that Americans credit Mr. Obama with greater commitment to finding common ground.

Analysts in both parties agree on the elements of Mr. Obama’s rebound. Most Americans never turned on him personally, even as they shouted their disappointment in the November elections.

Postelection compromises with Republicans on tax cuts showed the White House breaking Washington gridlock on the economic issues Americans care about most. That, along with signs of accelerating growth, increased confidence.

Then Mr. Obama delivered a well-received message of unity after the Tucson shootings two weeks ago. By demonstrating “efficacy and empathy,” as the Democratic pollster Peter Hart put it, the president complicated the task for Republicans in extending the last election’s gains.

Now, intuitively, common sense suggests Republicans, still unpopular despite midterm gains, should be at least slightly more accommodating — or at least less antagonistic — towards the popular president. If Obama’s the most popular figure in Washington, and he is, it stands to reason the disliked GOP wouldn’t want to invest too heavily in fighting with him about everything.

But does anyone seriously believe Republicans might actually think this way? Of course not. In fact, the opposite appears most likely — the GOP will respond to the modest increase in the president’s national support by being even less amenable to compromise. After all, as Harwood’s item noted, polls show the public appreciating Obama’s willingness to compromise and his ability to rise above partisan bickering.

The likely reaction, then, is a Republican plan premised on denying Obama compromise victories.

Postscript: Harwood’s report added, “Congressional Republicans also insist they have learned not to overreach.” Raise your hand if you have any confidence in this, especially given stated GOP intentions to shut down the government and hold the federal debt limit hostage.