Congressional Republican leaders don’t think in strategic terms, says one of President Barack Obama’s top advisers.
“You have to be careful not to presume a lot of strategy for this group,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who resigned his top job last week after joining Obama during the 2008 election.
The failure of the GOP leadership to think strategically and to negotiate bipartisan deals has pushed Obama to advance his goal via dramatic unilateral actions, Pfeiffer said.
During partisan negotiations and disputes, “we used to spend a lot of time thinking that maybe [GOP House Speaker John] Boehner is saying [something] to get himself some more room … [but] that’s not actually the case,” Pfeiffer told Jonathan Chait, a progressive writer for New York magazine.
“Usually he’s just saying it because he just said it or it’s the easiest thing to solve his immediate problem,” Pfeiffer said.
“The fundamental, driving strategic ethos of the Republican House leadership has been, ‘What do we do to get through the next caucus or conference without getting yelled at?'” he said.
Boehner’s inability to think strategically prevented the White House from making bipartisan deals to advance Obama’s agenda, Pfeiffer complained.
The problem was worsened by Obama’s inability to persuade swing voters to support his agenda, Pfeiffer said.
The failure is caused by “structural forces,” Pfeiffer claimed, not Obama’s radical agenda.
Voters and politicians have sorted themselves into conservative and progressive parties, leaving few genuine swing voters, he said. Big donors reward people who “play to the far right or to a set of special interests,” he insisted, without mentioning left-wing donors.
Also, voters and politicians use media that support their views, not media that offers contradictory information, he claimed.
“There’s very little we can do to change the Republicans’ political situation because they are worried about a cohort of voters who disagree with most of what the president says,” said Pfeiffer.
The only choice left for the president, said Pfeiffer, was unilateral action, such as the president’s November amnesty for 5 million illegal immigrants.
Each unilateral action rallied his base, annoyed the GOP’s base, but didn’t prompt any effective response by GOP leaders or movement by swing voters, Pfeiffer suggested.
“Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action … whether that’s the president’s endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean,” said Pfeiffer.
“Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president’s approval ratings? What will this mean in red states? … [But] there’s never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it,” said Pfeiffer.