A CNN Poll released Monday found that 45% of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress for failure to resolve the fiscal cliff. In contrast, 34% say they would blame President Obama. Yet the Republican Party has not changed its strategy on working with the president. Their approach of non-cooperation doesn’t consider that they tried this plan and it failed this past election day. If the Republicans don’t negotiate and come up with a compromise, the lion’s share of the blame will fall on them.
Bargaining is, of course, unappealing. Any concessions invite the wrath of the far right, and a lot of politicians fear breaking their no tax hike pledge with Grover Norquist. But by warding off the threat of a primary challenge, Republicans have made themselves much less appealing in general elections. The GOP has come to be seen as the party that doesn’t play nicely. The word cooperation is negative, seen not as a key governing principle but as a bending of principle. Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock said that the only acceptable bipartisanship is Democrats joining Republicans in their ideals. Richard Mourdock also lost. The American people don’t want inflexible politicians, they want politicians who will work and cooperate.
The Republican Party will not get everything that they ask for in this negotiation. But neither will the Democrats. There is a middle ground and the Republicans should be fighting for it. The key is to propose their agenda while not appearing obstinate. Holding onto a notion that no tax increases are acceptable will not help their cause. What could get the public back on their side is proposing sensible solutions involving spending cuts and entitlement reform.
Any successful deal on the fiscal cliff will be seen as a victory for Obama, and rightly so. But if handled correctly, the Republican Party could also come out of the negotiation as a winner. The party’s effort isn’t over with the passing of an agreement. The battle begins in earnest when the spin becomes a factor. During this last election cycle, the public agreed with Obama when he blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate and instead sticking to their political agenda. Now, the best way to regain political capital and reestablish their credibility is to work with their opponent.
The Republican strategy should be to ensure that the fiscal cliff is averted. It is the right thing to do and keeps them from being blamed for any failure. In the press afterwards, the Republicans should relentlessly push bipartisanship. They should highlight their willingness to work with the president, even though they disagree with his views on higher taxes. It might cost them some support from the far right, but they would make up the ground they lost in the center. The Republican Party has tried moving to the right. It’s time to try a shift back to the center.