The Campaign Spot

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

The Debt Ceiling Fight as a ‘Kobayashi Maru’


One of my regular correspondents sends in a thoroughly depressing report. It is anecdotal, so take it with as many grains of salt as you deem necessary, but rest assured, this correspondent wants to see conservative Republican victories in 2012 and beyond…

The hardcore Republicans may not feel this, but take this from a guy surrounded by independents all the time, and in the liberal state of New Jersey: the GOP is losing the independent vote big time here. The GOP is now viewed as unreasonable, can’t govern, and get this – don’t have a plan except cutting Medicare and Social Security! Obama is taking a hit as well, but as you say – he is strangely quiet.. well, it has helped him ! The independents saw his address Monday night, they don’t see him fighting, yelling on TV and they think he is the most reasonable man in the house.. When I say, “he has no plan,” my independent friends say, “well, at least he is not cutting Medicare and Social Security.”

I would note that we may be erroneous in thinking that there is a winning scenario for the GOP here. If the debt ceiling negotiations result in a good outcome for the economy, Obama will take credit – even if Boehner negotiated him down to the most rightward plan that could get through both the House and Senate. The spin from the White House will be that the reasonable Obama compromised, refuting all of that talk that he’s a liberal, and that saved the economy, blah blah blah. If – as it seems a bit more likely – that the debt ceiling negotiations result in a bad outcome for the economy, Obama will blame Republicans, no matter how negotiations turn out. If there is no deal, he’ll argue that the deal would have saved the economy. If there is a deal, and the credit rating still drops, he’ll argue that tax hikes would have saved the AAA credit rating. The only way to take away Obama’s blame-shifting maneuver is to pass precisely his preferred option — a “clean vote” to raise the debt ceiling, with no budget cuts? — and that’s just not something Republicans will do.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the American people will believe the White House spin. The awful GDP numbers out today will provide the GOP for some hefty evidence that the economy was slowing to near-stall long before the debt ceiling negotiations go front and center.

But for everyone convinced that their preferred strategy is certain to lead to a great political victory for Republicans, it is possible that this circumstance is a “Kobayashi Maru” — a no-win scenario that ends with Obama either taking credit or shifting blame, that message being eagerly carried by a friendly media, and that message resonating with low-information voters who don’t like to follow the details of budget debates.

Tags: Barack Obama , Congressional Republicans , Independents


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