If Republicans needed evidence that 2010 will hardly be the political cakewalk some expect, President Obama reminded them on Friday with an aggressive appearance before pointed questions from House GOP lawmakers.
“It was a remarkable performance,” said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican. “One can easily see how people could be swayed by him.”
The hour-long question-and-answer session in Baltimore demonstrated that although Obama has taken a blow with the collapse of his foremost legislative goal — health care — he remains a potent political figure.
“That’s something that Republicans should learn from,” said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican, in an interview. “Never underestimate a president who is, what, 13 months into his term, and consider that all life’s going to be easy.”
Life has been good of late for the GOP, after a year on the furthest edges of the political wilderness. Gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia in November were the first sign that Republicans could notch significant wins in the midterm elections this year.
The Democrats’ loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat this month, and the subsequent demise of Obama’s version of health-care reform set GOP hearts atwitter at the thought of recapturing the House.
The faces of the House Republican leadership Wednesday night in the House chamber, during Obama’s State of the Union address, bore evidence of such optimism.
McCotter’s comments to The Daily Caller, as well as interviews with other senior House GOP aides, showed that Republicans are beginning to plan for perhaps eliminating the Democrats’ current 79-seat advantage (257-to-178). But McCotter emphasized that his party is not going to take such an outcome for granted.
“Republicans have to work harder every single day, day in, day out, to show that we’ve learned our lesson, we’ve been chastened and that we’re worthy of being the majority again,” he said. “I don’t think we should let up for a minute or think that just because things look good today they’re going to be better tomorrow. You’ve got to earn it.”
A senior House GOP leadership aide agreed.
“We’ve got a long way to go if we’re serious about taking back the majority,” the aide said. “We have begun to show the base of our party that we were serious about recognizing that we lost our way and we are ready to reclaim what we lost, like the mantle of fiscal discipline.”
Republicans pointed to their opposition to the $787 billion stimulus and the president’s budget a year ago as evidence of their commitment to fiscal responsibility, and one GOP aide promised more of that in 2010.
“You’re going to continue to see Republicans united in voting against spending increases,” he said.
There are at least four major obstacles, however, standing in the way of a Republican resurgence over the next nine months.
1. The Tea Party movement. Republican candidates are facing primary challenges from Tea Party-backed candidates in states all over the country. This dynamic is pitting grassroots conservatives against “the Washington establishment.” It is also going to drain the checkbooks of many Republican candidates.
2. Cash shortage. The national party has far less cash on hand than Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has $16.7 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $2.67 million, for example. If Republicans cannot pick up the fundraising pace, their ability to be competitive in all the close races will be limited.
3. Obama: The president is a likable figure, despite his falling job approval rating. He could quickly refocus on issues other than health care — namely job creation and financial regulation. His time with House Republicans Friday was a reminder of his political and intellectual prowess. The White House even sent out video of the forum to reporters. “ I don’t think the Republicans expected it,” a senior Democratic House leadership aide said. “If I was a Republican I’d admit that was a failure.”
4. The obstructionist label. If Republicans stand united against Obama’s next budget — against a jobs bill, health care and other measures — the White House and congressional Democrats will blame them for hindering progress as citizens struggle with joblessness and crisis. The obstructionist charge has “been a challenge for us over the last year,” a senior GOP aide said.
“It demonstrated that there is an alternative point of view,” said Republican pollster Frank Luntz. “Nancy Pelosi shuts them out. Harry Reid shuts them out. It was smart for Obama. He looks bipartisan and the Republicans get a chance to tell the country where they stand.”
Luntz said that when Obama mentioned him during his remarks his “leg was shaking for 3 minutes” from people calling his cell phone.
“So I know a lot of people were watching,” Luntz told The Daily Caller.
“You saw House Republicans get up repeatedly and say, ‘I worked on this issue and offered this alternative and did not get an answer,'” a Republican aide said. “In several situations the president was put in a position where he acknowledged that we have put forward solutions and a couple times he said he had read it.”
“Now the president’s been on national TV saying we have solutions,” he said. “They cannot simply continue to say we have no proposals or solutions.”