Politics & Policy

A President Who Prefers to Provoke

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Are Conservatives Angry? Because the President Wants to Anger Them.

One more point to add to yesterday’s piece about how Obama’s style fuels Trump’s rise . . . 

Another big reason Republicans are angry is because they have a president who embraces a political strategy of deliberately and consistently enraging conservatives. Major Garrett detailed the White House’s calculated effort to be controversial and provocative in 2014:

This is the White House theory of “Stray Voltage.” It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure. The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.

Mickey Kaus characterizes the approach as “gaslighting” – giving your opponent a legitimate reason to get angry, then turning around and pointing to their anger as evidence they’re unhinged, obsessed, incapable of governing responsibly, et cetera.

President Obama made clear he refuses to be a lame duck; instead, the passage of the 2014 midterms only liberated him from worrying about what the public thinks.

An executive-order amnesty, enacting an Iran deal opposed by a bipartisan majority of the Senate, even renaming Mount McKinley – Obama’s charging ahead with everything that was too controversial before Obama’s reelection campaign or the midterm elections. Two years after negotiating the end of 18 percent of the Bush tax cuts – about $624 billion — Obama proposed $320 billion in new tax hikes. The White House later indicated the president was “very interested” in exploring the option of raising taxes through executive action.

Free community college? Hey, it’s never going to become law, so why not propose it and make Republicans look mean for not enacting it? Goofing around with a selfie stick? Go right ahead. Chewing gum at an international summit? Hey, what are they going to do, impeach him?

In this atmosphere, it’s no wonder Republicans are furious. A midterm election victory that was supposed to constrain President Obama’s ability to enact his agenda has only emboldened and liberated him.

Most Republican presidential candidates find themselves caught between their anger at the president’s constant provocations and blatant disregard for their roles under the Constitution and the limited number of acceptable ways to show that anger. The insanely imbalanced media landscape ensures that almost any expression of Democratic anger is portrayed as justified (or ignored if it’s too obviously outrageous) while almost any Republican expression of anger is portrayed as irrational, deep-seated hatred.

If Hillary Clinton compares Republicans to “terrorist groups” or suggests they want to round up people and put them in “boxcars,” it’s a one-day controversy at most.

Meanwhile, if Joe Wilson yells out “you lie” when the president lies during an address to Congress, it’s the only thing anyone remembers about him. When Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” in response to President Obama’s attack on the decision at the State of the Union Address, the New York Times lamented Alito “broke with decorum.” (Mischaracterizing the decision and denouncing the court justices sitting in the front row breaks from decorum, too.)

If anything, President Obama’s denunciation of his opposition is only getting fiercer and more incendiary. Thursday night, as the country recoiled from a horrific shooting at an Oregon community college, President Obama rushed to the cameras to contend that those who opposed with his preferred gun-control laws bore some of the responsibility.

“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Obama said. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

Imagine if President Bush’s first address after the 9/11 attacks denounced President Clinton and his supporters for not taking al-Qaeda seriously for the previous years, and that the rise of al-Qaeda was a “political choice” and that the deaths were a result of “our inaction.”

Sunday, in response to Obama’s declaration that the NRA and its supporters as a whole bear responsibility for shootings, Trump called the president “a great divider” and declared, “the gun laws have nothing to do with this. This isn’t guns. This is about really mental illness.”

Conservatives see a late-term president eager to finish the job of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Allies like Israel get abandoned, enemies like Iran get embraced. The wealthy are demonized, while egregious scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personnel Management, and Health and Human Services are ignored or swept under the rug. Ferguson and the shooting of Trayvon Martin get presidential attention, but Kathryn Steinle’s murder by an illegal immigrant in San Francisco is largely ignored because it doesn’t fit the administration’s narrative.

Many Republicans feel hated by their president, and they return the sentiment. Whether or not they believe in Obama’s Hawaiian birth, they increasingly agree with Rudy Giuliani’s sentiment, “[Obama] doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” In Trump, these voters finally have a candidate who expresses that disdain as directly and passionately as they feel it.

Also note:

For all the talk about Trump peaking, this morning Quinnipiac finds him still leading among registered Republicans in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. (He also has the highest “would not support” scores in those states among Republicans – 29 percent in Ohio in Florida, 31 percent in Pennsylvania.)

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