The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

What if Obama Is Incapable of Folding a Losing Hand?


Sigh… today is the day the debt ceiling debate ate up all three of the Morning Jolt’s topics…

I can hear the gears turning in readers’ minds now, right? “So Jim quoted two righties backing the Boehner plan, he must be on board with it, huh?” Eh, heck if I know the right strategy here. It’s possible the Boehner plan passes the House, Reid vetoes it – okay, he gets his Senate Democrats to oppose it and then it ‘dies’ and then we hit the ceiling, the credit rating takes a hit, and Obama blames Republicans for that and all successive economic problems. Or maybe it passes, Reid folds, Obama signs it – and then the credit rating goes down anyway, because the rating agencies think the Boehner plan is too modest and the real problem is the debt, not the debt ceiling. Maybe Obama then starts saying that the dip is because we didn’t follow his plan – you know, the one written down by his finger on air – and demagogues the issue to victory in 2012.

Maybe the hold-the-line crowd is right; maybe within the White House, Obama’s advisors are popping prescription-strength stress relievers, on the verge of panic, and when the calendar flips from July to August, they’ll send a message to Boehner and McConnell they’ll sign anything. But at this point, are we even sure if Obama could tell if he has a losing hand? (This is, in fact, the same poker player who apparently warns opponents not to call his bluff.) I’ve been remarking throughout this process that  the parties’ behavior defies the conventional wisdom and polling evidence: Republicans generally aren’t acting like they’re losing or afraid that they’re losing* and Democrats don’t seem all that confident in victory. Think about it, if Obama’s message of, “I’m King Moderate Sensible Compromise, and if only the rest of the world were as wise and noble as me,” is working so effectively, why does he keep needing to come out and repeat it in ever-more-irritated tones? Why is his approval rating underwater again? Why is he losing ground in head-to-head matchups against the GOP?

So here’s the complication: Forcing your opponent to capitulate requires him to realize that he’s got a lot to lose and further brinksmanship will cost him more, and what if Obama… just isn’t capable of doing that? What if he’s always convinced that he’ll come out the winner, no matter how big and ugly and consequential the confrontation gets?

*Some disagree, like Tabitha Hale, who I always listen to: “Severely disappointed in Boehner and Cantor. They’re panicking and it’s obvious. Gives the ball back to the Dems.”

Some might argue that if Obama holds a weak hand, doesn’t realize that he holds a weak hand, and plays anyway, then the consequences will be worse for him. But I suppose I’m worried about what else happens along the way, to the economy, to the national reputation, etc. …

Tags: Barack Obama , Debt Ceiling


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