There are some serious obstacles to Obama managing anything close to the kind of triangulation Clinton pulled off, and that’s getting beyond Obamacare, which the President will treat with all the reverence Democrats ascribe to Social Security.
First, Clinton learned to triangulate long before he reached the White House. One of his seminal experiences as a politician was losing the governorship of Arkansas to Frank White. Afterwards, he became much more cognizant of the political requirements of staying in power. His pivot after the 1994 election may have been “wrenching” to some extent, but it was firmly in character for a politician who viewed maintaining political power as the first and most important objective of politics.
Obama’s problem is not simply that he has never before faced the kind of political rebuke he received in the 2010 election. Obama’s problem is that he is under the misconception that his politics are firmly in the mainstream and that he is already governing with moderation.
I’ve always thought the President was a doctrinaire progressive but I think many of us have labored under the notion that Obama realizes how radical some of his prescriptions are. His constant protestations about explaining things to the public have convinced me otherwise. I think there’s a very good chance that he believes that his views resonate with moderate Americans, in and of themselves. If this is the case, he will play a whole lot of defense and try to paint the GOP as obstructionist.
Certainly, Obama will attempt to find a few issues that he can work with the GOP on, but Clinton caved on some core issues, including spending and welfare reform. At this point, does anyone really believe that Obama is intrinsically capable of not just backing away from some key issues, but deliberately and meaningfully compromising with Republicans in areas where he has already forcefully taken a position? That’s what he needs to do to recapture the middle. He needs to be the president he told everyone he would be.
It’s a tall order.