When it comes to the debt-reduction talks and the debt-ceiling crisis, congressional Republicans aren’t exactly winning the public relations fight. What’s worth emphasizing, though, is the fact that they seem a little surprised about it.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have positioned themselves as the sensible pragmatists, ready to strike a deal and avert disaster, and eager to compromise to resolve the dispute. Congressional Republicans have positioned themselves as unyielding ideologues who refuse to even consider concessions and expect 100% of their demands to be met.
GOP leaders probably expected to lose elite opinion, and they have (see Brooks, David). But Republicans also expected to force Democrats to back down — long before now — because the GOP assumed that simply shouting “tax increases” repeatedly would pave the way for success.
Kevin Drum had a smart post on this.
[T]he bigger picture, obviously, is that McConnell wouldn’t have proposed giving Obama his debt ceiling increase with only political strings attached unless he was convinced that Republicans were losing the PR battle for a more comprehensive deal. And since the only real stumbling block to a comprehensive deal was Obama’s insistence on revenue increases, McConnell must have felt that they were losing the PR battle even there. After years of owning the tax issue, this must have come as something of a tectonic shock.
Which is … interesting. Obviously, Obama has been positioning himself all along as the reasonable, centrist guy, willing to agree to trillions in spending cuts as long as Republicans are willing to close a few modest tax loopholes. Last week Republicans derided Obama’s repeated focus on tax breaks for corporate jets as class warfare etc., but you know what? It must have been working. Somewhere down in the bowels of the GOP’s polling operation, they must have discovered that the public was buying Obama’s pitch that “the wealthy need to pitch in too.”
To a very real extent, we’re finally getting a look at the playbook Republicans wrote at the beginning of this process. Step 1: they’d demand massive cuts and no new revenue. Step 2: when Democrats balked, Republicans would say Democrats want to raise taxes. Step 3: they’d wait for the public to balk at the notion of tax increases, forcing Dems to back down.
Except, that third step never happened. And since this was integral to the GOP plan, Boehner and McConnell have begun looking for the exits.
It’s almost amusing, though, to see Republicans struggling with this. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) proclaimed this week, “Mr. President, you have gotten on the last nerve of the American people and they don’t want a tax increase, and you just don’t seem to understand that.”
Except, that’s backwards. There’s ample evidence that the public expects increased revenue as part of a debt-reduction deal. It’s Republicans who “don’t seem to understand that.”
McConnell and Boehner are slowly learning that the plan didn’t work. Whether they can present reality to their caucuses remains to be seen.