Obama Wants his House Back—and He Might Just Get It
“It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”
—Former Secretary of Defense and Architect of the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld, in Rumsfeld’s Rules
In 2002 I penned the first book ever published on then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—A New York Times and Washington Post bestseller entitled The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Lessons from a Battle-Hardened Maverick (Ironically, in 2008 and 2009 I did some work with Mr. Rumsfeld on his own memoir, Known and Unknown, Sentinel, 2012).
In researching my book, I had the good fortune to interview such figures as Dr. Henry Kissinger. But, despite the fact that Rumsfeld was the youngest Secretary of Defense (under Gerald Ford) and the oldest (under George W. Bush), there was almost nothing published on the man. For example, no major encyclopedia at the time even mentioned his name, never mind detailed his accomplishments. So how was I able to write such a book? By examining Rumsfeld’s own words—his speeches, his interviews and some of his own writings. It was then that I found “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” which consisted of more than 100 axioms that Rummy had written in the 1970s and updated from time to time.
Today, in the wake of a government shutdown entering its third week and a more-than-credible, unprecedented looming credit default of the United States, one of those rules stands above the rest to explain where we are today and how we got here:
“It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”
Now, for those of you that have read my recent postings, you know what I think of the elitist, yet cowardly senator Ted Cruz. No one—except Cruz himself—disputes that it was Cruz that got the Republican party to shut down the government by insisting on some defunding or other alteration of Obamacare (The Affordable Health Care Act). The fact that this was a flawed strategy from the start should cannot be over-emphasized. For better or worse, this was Obama’s signature and sole piece of groundbreaking legislation. It has been passed by both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. There was always a zero chance that Obama would agree to any degree of blackmail by agreeing to diminish his signature bill to get a lifting of the Debt Ceiling or a re-opening of the U.S. government.
Obamacare, which had had embarrassingly-horrendous roll-out since it has gone live, has actually gone up in popularity by seven percentage points (so says the Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion paper of the left). Obama can thank Mr. Cruz for that—since Cruz has now become such an abhorred figure of both the left and the right—that he single-handedly did precisely the opposite of what he set out to do (and something that Obama could not do himself. I think the junior Senator from Texas has forgot that Obama not only went to Harvard, he headed its Law Review).
Conservative writer and broadcaster Charles Krauthammer put Cruz’s strategy into proper context by calling it “nuts:”
“This is nuts. The president will never sign a bill defunding the singular achievement of his presidency. Especially when he has control of the Senate. Especially when, though a narrow 51 percent majority of Americans disapproves of Obamacare, only 36 percent favors repeal. President Obama so knows he’ll win any shutdown showdown that he’s practically goading the Republicans into trying.”
Yet, remarkably, Cruz still thinks himself a hugely popular figure despite the fact that it was his opinions, and more important, his actions, that has practically brought the #1 world economy to its knees. Cruz, the de facto head of the Tea Party, is now half as popular than the Democratic Party (despite the fact that the Democrats popularity has also gone down during this manufactured crisis). Cruz will become no more than a footnote to this emerging history, since he will go the way of such disreputable figures as Joseph McCarthy and Spiro Agnew. It was Cruz’s deeds and his Harvard/Princeton “strategy” that has brought the popularity of the GOP to 24 percent, an all-time low, and Obamacare, shooting in the other direction.
Now, let’s turn the tables and ask this question: What is the Obama strategy—what does he really want? This is where things get really interesting. Is it true—like Rand Paul has stated repeatedly—that he wants the unconditional surrender of the Republicans? No—he actually wants more—much more—and before you say that sounds like “nuts,” let’s look at history.
On this day, Sunday, the 13th of October, and four days before the potential default of America, following a Saturday evening White House budget discussion among Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and the President, comes new news: Obama not only wants an unconditional raising of the debt ceiling, he also wants to end the sequestration budget cuts—something that was unthinkable only a few days ago. Obama was pressing his advantage by opening up “a third front” and insisting that he not only get his “clean CR”—but more. This time he moved the goalposts. But you do not get to be president of the United States without being one of the most competitive people on the planet. And now that all attention is on the Senate and the talks between Senate Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, there is a new dynamic in place. Stay with me a bit longer as I once again rely on history to predict the way forward.
It was during Obama’s first term as President that Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor and declared that the first priority of his party was to ensure that Obama never got a second term. How did that go, Mr. McConnell? Now the fate of the country and the global economy rests, in part, on the man who vowed to kill Obama’s career—at a time that Obama holds every card in the deck and then some. This smells like a bad move by the Republicans. Did they forget that McConnell vowed to deny Obama a second term? The most competitive man in the world is not going to let this pass without exacting some degree of revege (“a dish best served cold,” and it is now ice cold, but no less important to the 44th president). And now we know how he intends to get it.
Before the Wall Street Journal polls that showed the Republicans at an all-time low, Obama would have been more than happy to get a clean Continuing [budget] Resolution [CR] and a lifting of the debt ceiling. Now we learn, following the Saturday night Democratic revenge-fest in the White House, that Obama has asked for more with what we’ll call his “third front strategy:” he now wants a lifting of the debilitating Sequester-level budget cuts—in essence, a blank check. All along, Obama has been playing chess while the Harvard/Princeton educated Cruz party has been playing checkers with all the skill of a four-year old. And it is pitiful figures like Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell who are about to find out how badly they under-estimated the 44th president.
However, with that “third front strategy,” Obama may have shown us his cards. He may indeed be showing us how he intends to end this dangerous stalemate at the last minute and appear to be the “deal-maker-in-chief.” Since it is unlikely that Republicans will give in to this latest “demand” to lift the Sequester-level budget, he may be setting the stage for an 11th hour “capitulation” of that demand. This way, at least he can say that he gave the other side something. As for the timing of this, I do not see this happening until Tuesday, the 16th.
Obama has backed the Republican party into the worst corner in their history, and then has pulled the corner out from under them. With each passing “government shutdown” day the Republican party becomes less popular, and why shouldn’t it? After all, it was their strategy to defund Obamacare and shut down the government.
We all know it was a fool’s errand at best, and political nuclear war at worst, a war in which the GOP lost before they took the battlefield.
Obama will not give the man who declared to deny him a second-term any quarter. His goal is what Jack Welch, the former Chairman of General Electric, would call a “stretch goal” since the chances of achieving it is so remote: he wants to take back the House, a near impossibility. That is, unless he can play a role in lowering GOP popularity to crater to say 15 to 18 percent. If he can manage that, I believe he does have a chance to take back the House in 2014 and achieve new and important legislative feats, such as background checks for gun owners and new legislation on immigration.
Let me be abundantly clear: it is not spite that carries the day for this president, it is the hope that healthcare not be his sole legislative accomplishment. However, taking back the house in the mid-terms would be an incredible feat of brinksmanship, and will require Obama to put as many House Republicans on the unemployment line as possible.
The next five days will be like some terrible car-crash, difficult to watch but impossible to take your eyes off of. And lest Obama declare victory too soon, let’s remember that this is his economy. History always remembers the president in office when things go off the rails—they seldom remember the lesser-lights who helped things go afoul. But Obama knows that, too.
So what lies ahead? Unless I am dead wrong, we will see the Dow lose several hundred points—or more—before Obama gives an inch. He can afford to: after all, under him, the Dow more than doubled between early 2009 and today. Five hundred or a thousand points, which can be recovered quickly if the ship is righted before Thursday at midnight, is a small price to pay for a president who sees a chance at getting his House back.
This is a fast-moving event so please stay tuned for frequent updates!
—Jeffrey A. Krames, October 13/14, 2013, 9:45 a.m.