Even some former Bush aides are smitten with the new president. Now, will lefties let the GOP inside the tent?
No American could watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama this week and not feel pride in the splendor and strength of our democracy. No one watching could miss the drama of this moment of challenge and self-examination for our nation—of seeing a man so well-suited to meet the expectations of the office he fills. The presidency is now within reach for any man who dares to dream big enough. It is no longer an office attainable by members of one race, and, hopefully, in short time, it will no longer be an office available to one gender.
Obama deserves our thanks for letting Republicans root for him, as well. He has created a space within his wide net of support for those of us who fought for John McCain’s candidacy by honoring the McCains at a dinner the night before his inauguration and by listening to McCain’s ideas on national security, climate change, and government reform. The Obamas have also returned the civility and warmth directed at them by president and Mrs. Bush in a way that sets this transition apart from others in recent history. This generosity of spirit has had a ripple effect throughout Republican circles. Two former senior aides to President George W. Bush said to me over the weekend, “I expect him [President Obama] to be there for eight years.” A former senior official of Bush’s re-election campaign predicted that he would contribute to Obama’s re-election effort. When I heard that, I said, “He hasn’t even been sworn in yet.” It didn’t matter. One former White House colleague who I ran into in a greenroom this weekend said, “I’m pleased with everything Obama’s done—it’s the press that’s driving me crazy.”
Two former senior aides to President George W. Bush said to me over the weekend, “I expect him [President Obama] to be there for eight years.”
Republicans seem to be growing more and more comfortable with Obama, and they aren’t shy or stingy with their praise. From Obama’s appointments, to his outreach to conservatives in and out of elected office, to his discipline and calm—Republicans of all stripes are impressed. President Obama was wise to tap into our hunger to be part of the solution. It will most certainly help extend his honeymoon and will prove useful when he seeks to put together bipartisan coalitions to solve big problems like immigration and entitlement reform.
The test is whether the far left can stomach our support. It’s an open question: Will they recognize that Republican support only strengthens Obama, or are they too consumed with anger and hatred for the right to accept our support of this new president? Will they be able to accept a president who listens to us, or will they mobilize, through left-wing blogs, groups like Moveon.org, and their allies in Congress, against any efforts on the part of the Obama administration to forge bipartisan solutions?
There are several issues on the horizon that will force members of Obama’s base to make this choice. Nancy Pelosi voiced her support for repealing the Bush tax cuts before they expire, putting her at odds with Obama’s economic team, which prefers allowing them to expire in two years. The Obama administration prefers a national economic discussion about a balanced package with something for everyone—tax cuts for businesses to win over Republicans and small-business owners, and government spending to win over Democrats and other key members of Obama’s coalition. Some Democrats are intent on investigating members of Bush’s national-security team. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq will likely take place at a much slower pace than Obama’s supporters on the left would like. Finally, the responsible disposition of prisoners at Gitmo will take every minute of the year Obama has promised and possibly longer. In its handling of these issues and many others, the Obama White House could find that keeping its political coalition together will become one of its greatest challenges.
President Obama has the support of roughly 80 percent of Americans. Those numbers include all Democrats and a whole lot of Republicans. That level of support is only sustainable if Obama is seen as the leader of all Americans. Our past divisions have left us distrustful of each other, and everyone who has been “on the field” at any point in the last 20 years in elected office or politics shares a piece of the blame. But that distrust is not consistent with the renewal Obama asked of all of us this week. As he said in his address: “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”
Solving the challenges we face in our economy and abroad is the work of all Americans—not just Democrats. We have to learn new ways to champion the ideas we believe in without tearing down the ideas, or the champions of the ideas, we disagree with. It’s the only way to realize the real change and progress Obama has in mind.
Nicolle Wallace served as a senior advisor to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. Prior to joining the McCain campaign, she worked as a political analyst at CBS News. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House from January 2005 - June 2006 and as communications director for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.