Obama's divide-and-conquer strategy: Is it really about destroying GOP?
The day after Obama's inauguration, Boehner accused him of trying to 'annihilate' the Republicans. Indeed, the party's struggles since have only grown. But weakening the GOP may not be all Obama wants.
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A month later, the Republicans have grown only more fractious. The American Conservative Union declined to invite New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the most popular Republican in the country, to their annual confab – the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC – next month.Skip to next paragraph
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In the grand scheme of things, the CPAC snub is small potatoes – in fact, it may help Governor Christie’s image as a pragmatist as he runs for reelection and possibly president. But it’s also telling: The biggest annual gathering of conservatives won’t include one of the GOP’s superstars, because he played nice with President Obama after superstorm Sandy, right before Election Day.
On gay marriage, more than 80 Republican leaders broke ranks with party orthodoxy this week by submitting a brief arguing in favor of marriage equality, ahead of next month’s Supreme Court arguments on the issue.
And as the federal government prepares to implement the sequester – deep, across-the-board spending cuts, half out of defense – Republicans are splintering over how to frame it and whether even to fight its implementation. The GOP establishment opposes the cuts as currently configured (entitlements are mostly exempt) and points out the Obama administration came up with the idea. Tea partyers welcome the cuts, calling them a victory for smaller government.
But at least one House Republican is in open revolt. Rep. Scott Rigell (R) of Virginia, whose district is home to the largest naval base in the world, says he’s open to closing tax loopholes and thus creating new revenue to avoid the deep cuts. When Obama visited his district Tuesday, he gave Congressman Rigell a shoutout.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, up for reelection in 2014 and concerned about defense cuts, has also tiptoed off the reservation. On Monday he told CNN he was open to $600 billion in new tax revenue if Democrats would go along with major entitlement reforms.
Immigration reform is another issue that deeply divides the GOP. Some Republicans oppose a path to citizenship, or anything that could be called “amnesty.” Others, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, have changed their tune and now support a path to citizenship. Reaching agreement will be tough, but Republicans’ abysmal showing among Latinos last November is a vital area of GOP concern.
In fact, a legalization process could end up eventually creating more Democratic voters. But Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush say that the party needs to move in this direction regardless, to get the issue behind it. Otherwise, Latinos won’t hear the rest of the GOP message of economic opportunity and family values.
There’s no doubt the 2012 election opened up divisions in the Republican Party, and it’s natural for the president to try to take advantage of them, says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. But making the Republicans look disjointed isn’t necessarily Obama’s ultimate goal.
“At best, he wants votes,” Mr. Zelizer says. “At minimum, he wants the divisions more pronounced – it makes them look weaker.”