Never mind “repeal and replace,” it might be easier to just “deter and degrade” the Obama agenda and legacy.
A few weeks ago, Republicans were talking impeachment and hoping to defund ObamaCare. Instead, losing a vote on Syria may be what politically neuters this lame duck.
The New York Times reports that Obama and his advisers see this as “a potential turning point that could effectively define his foreign policy for his final three years in office.”
But why assume the public will compartmentalize it? This strikes at Obama’s very credibility. Embarrassing losses of this magnitude tend to be domain general. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake told me: “I do think this hurts him if [the vote] doesn’t go through.” (Listen to our full conversation about the Syria whip count here.)
Sensing that the opportunity to hurt Obama might be irresistible, Bill Kristol is warning Republicans that their desire to weaken Obama shouldn’t influence their vote: “The fact is that Obama is the only president we have,” Kristol avers. “We can’t abdicate our position in the world for the next three years. So Republicans will have to resist the temptation to weaken him when the cost is weakening the country.”
This strikes me as a tad insulting. Humiliating Obama and halting his liberal agenda is merely a happy byproduct here. To even suggest it might be the primary consideration is troubling.
Of course, it’s too early to say Obama has been defeated. Some might even argue that this sets up Obama for a sort of comeback story. “It may be that the dire talk from the White House reflects a strategy to muscle Congress into line: Vote against this, the message being, and you vote against protecting Israel from Iran,” writes the New York Times.
The Post’s Greg Sargent likewise insists it’s premature to declare this a loss for Obama, citing several reasons, including the fact that the majority of Members of Congress still haven’t received a classified briefing.
How might a turnaround happen? Time’s Mark Halperin lays out the comeback scenario:
POTUS Syria challenge defined: how does he get time back on his side? (AIPAC+Oval address+MOC in-person briefings+polling shift)
— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) September 6, 2013
The media like comeback stories, and contrarian opinion leaders can’t resist going against conventional wisdom. So this could still be very interesting.