David Frum

12.11.12

The Return of Doomsday Conservatism

In his latest Washington Post column, Marc Thiessen recommends the congressional Republicans try again to use the threat of national default to force their agenda on President Obama. I think Thiessen can claim a first here: the first post-election column to call for a return to the doomsday tactics of 2011. Will others follow? If so, Republican politics in 2013 may take the form of a race between those who urge the party to reform and renew - and those who prefer one last win-or-die gamble.

I remain optimistic that the reformers and renewers will prevail over the reckless forces in the party. But Thiessen's column reminds how much all Americans have at stake in the Republican debate.

STEP THREE: Pass your plans. If the president refuses to negotiate and no progress is made by February, inform him that you will attach all or part of your plan to legislation raising the debt limit and pass it in the House. Then do so. Obama will sign it. Here is why:

Unlike with the fiscal cliff, Republicans have all the leverage when it comes to the debt limit. Today, Obama is perfectly willing to go over the fiscal cliff and blame the GOP for the resulting tax increases on the middle class. But when it comes to the debt limit, he does not have that luxury. He can’t default on our debt — the consequences are too catastrophic. So in the end he will cave.

Indeed, he would have caved during the last debt-limit stand-off, in the summer of 2011. According to Bob Woodward, when Obama told his advisers he intended to veto the debt-limit bill the Republican-controlled House had passed, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told him he couldn’t — that if Republicans didn’t give in, he had no choice but to sign their bill. “You can’t veto,” Geithner reportedly told Obama, because the consequences “would be indelible, incurable. It would last for generations.”

Republicans had Obama cornered and didn’t know it — so they let him off the hook.