Top aide: Obama seeks to split Republican Party into warring factions before 2014 midterm election

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s top political aide used an Inauguration Day interview to sketch out a provocative political strategy intended to split the Republican Party in time to impact the 2014 midterm elections.

“The barrier to progress here in many respects, whether it is deficits, measures to help economy, immigration, gun safety legislation … is [that] there are factions here in Congress, Republicans in Congress, who are out of the mainstream,” White House advisor David Plouffe said on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley.”

“We need more Republicans in Congress to think like Republicans in the country who are seeking compromise, seeking balance,” he claimed.

Plouffe’s statement likely will strengthen the GOP’s consensus that Obama is seeking confrontation prior to 2014, not bipartisan cooperation to spur the stalled U.S. economy.

That consensus was highlighted at the GOP’s conclave in Williamsburg, Va., where House leaders and members agreed to back away from a looming debt-ceiling clash with Obama. Instead, they rallied behind their leaders and decided to emphasize a cautious strategy that scaled back their goals to ensure they keep their House majority in 2014, according to media reports.

GOP leaders had expected a re-elected Obama would want to focus on the economy, reducing the nation’s high unemployment-rate — roughly 24 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — and curbing the government’s growing debt.

The debt is slated to reach roughly $125,000 for every working American by 2017.

Instead, since his re-election Obama has picked fights on budgets, guns, immigration and Cabinet nominees; he has spurned compromise and used his White House perch — and allied news media — to claim the GOP is a captive of an extremist minority.

Obama’s likely goal is to recapture the House of Representatives in 2014, both to accelerate government’s growth and to claim public support for expansions of government spending and influence in people’s lives.

An agressive political strategy in dealing with Republicans has already been endorsed by major media figures including CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer and CBS political director John Dickerson.

“Go for the Throat! Why if he wants to transform American politics, Obama must declare war on the Republican Party,” declared the headline of a Jan. 18 article penned by Dickerson.

“The president can stir up these [needed] fights by poking the fear among Republicans that the party is becoming defined by its most extreme elements, which will in turn provoke fear among the most faithful conservatives that weak-willed conservatives are bending to the popular mood,” wrote Dickerson, who shapes CBS’ coverage of politics.

In November, CBS’s evening news show attracted 4.3 percent of viewers, down from 16.7 percent in 1980.

Plouffe detailed Democrats’ confrontation strategy in his CNN interview with Crowley. The president will try to split the GOP between legislators who recognize a “consensus” on taxes, guns and immigration, and those who are “out of the mainstream,” Plouffe claimed.

On fiscal issues, Plouffe suggested Obama would continue his 2012 strategy of demanding the passage of measures — such as tax increases — that appear to attract support in some polls, regardless of the GOP’s judgment that taxes will slow economic growth.

That strategy had failed in 2012 until the so-called “fiscal cliff” was about to raise income and payroll taxes on middle-class Americans.

Obama wants to use it again in pending budget talks about automatic cuts, a budget law and a renewal of the debt-ceiling, where he will push for more taxes and more spending.

“We are going to seek common ground with Republicans in Congress … around balanced deficit reduction, measures to grow the economy and help the middle class,” Plouffe claimed.

Plouffe also claimed a public consensus for Obama’s gun-related agenda.

“I think there are 60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House, if votes will come up, for some of these gun safety measures, like clips, like universal background checks. … There is a consensus in America on this and I think we can get there here on Capitol Hill,” he claimed.

In his interview, Plouffe did not mention a ban on “assault weapons,” but instead talked about “gun safety.”

His new focus on “gun safety” will help vulnerable Senate Democrats avoid a wave of opposition from gun owners in 2014.

It will also help shift the media’s focus to safety measures desired by swing-voting suburban mothers who were horrified by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14.

In his Jan. 16 White House statement, Obama cited those voters as he identified the National Rifle Association as his main target.

“Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” he told supporters, journalists and voters who watched his speech.

“Ask them what’s more important?  Doing whatever it takes to get a — an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns?  Or giving parents some piece of mind when they drop their child off to first grade?”

Plouffe also highlighted immigration, saying a “consensus” exists to support a new immigration law.

“There is no reason that immigration, first, shouldn’t pass,” he claimed. “I think there is a huge consensus: [the] business community, Republicans around the country, the faith community. … The stars seem to be aligned to finally get comprehensive immigration reform,” he claimed.

However, massive public protests derailed efforts in 2006 and 2007 by business, libertarian and progressive advocates to establish a conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants and what the admininstration has called a “guest-worker program.”

Polls suggested that opposition attacks damaged Sen. John McCain’s support in the GOP primaries and in the 2008 election.

In 2012, GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney won a majority of independents, but still lost to Obama, partly because of a poor turnout by GOP-leaning white voters who are worried about the economy.

Some polls show the public wants more robust economic growth and curbs on immigration. The public’s worries about high unemployment and stagnant wages will make a conditional amnesty — dubbed by advocates aethnic lobby groups.

In 2012, Democrats are pushing for a single big bill — so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” legislation. Such a bil could lead either to a decisive defeat that can be used to further reduce GOP support among Hispanics, or to a big win that can be used to register more than 10 million Democratic-leaning Hispanics to vote.

Democrats are thrilled by the prospect of a big win.

“You have the power to really democratize America. … You can do it on immigration reform, you can do it on these economic issues,” former President Bill Clinton told a meeting of wealthy progressive donors on Jan 19.

“Whether it is immigration, deficit reduction, measures to help the economy, energy, gun control and safety, immigration, these are all stacked up right now,” Plouffe told CNN. “This is going to take us, you know, well through the year.”

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