Politics

04.12.13

A Republican Opera Buffa

Just wrap your head around this: So the guy who has been appointed the general of the Republican Party's reelection campaign for the House in 2014 might now himself face a primary!

Greg Walden is a congressman from Oregon. He is in a pretty safe district, but not overwhelmingly conservative; it's R +10 on the Charlie Cook scale. That means it's pretty reliably Republican but could be captured by the Democrats in a tsumani-type election.

So it wasn't that shocking that Walden criticized Obama's chained CPI Social Security proposal as being anti-old people. But there's another, bigger reason it wasn't surprising, which is that I and others have fully expected that Republicans would run next fall accusing Obama of wanting to cut Social Security. As I've noted earlier, this would constitute some pretty serious hypocrisy on their part, since they want bigger cuts, but that hasn't stopped them before. They proposed big cuts to Medicare in 2010 (Paul Ryan's first "roadmap") and then ran that very fall denouncing Obama's Medicare cuts.

So I'd have thought that Walden was doing the right, cynical thing. But no. John Boehner gave him a little public lashing. And yesterday came the Club for Growth to announce that it's going to try to find someone to run against him in a primary, someone more in line with the Club's priorities of shifting more of national burden from the top 1 percent to old people.

It's going to be pretty hard now for Republicans to employ the strategy I have suspected they want to employ. We'll see. If I'm correct this will have the effect of letting Obama get away with proposing these cuts without suffering much political damage; after all, if the Republicans want even more cuts, how can they make Obama look bad? (By the way, I wrote the other day that Obama was the first Democratic president to propose cuts to Social Security; not true. Carter and Clinton each got small cuts in the program, but nothing that directly cut benefit amounts to seniors.)

In more general terms, though, the chained CPI gambit is not playing out so well for Obama, either. Nancy Pelosi has refused to endorse it, and lots of Hill Democrats are going to be against it. This is triangulation, except that in this case most of the public is against Obama. David Brooks applauds Obama's proposal today because it shows that "he understands that politics can only work if the president transcends his base and builds a majority coalition." Uh, but what about the fact that two-thirds of the people are against this?

I am on the road today. A column will appear as usual tomorrow morning, and I think it's a particularly spicy one, so do check in. And enjoy the Masters, if that's your thing. Would love to see Sergio win one.