A Democratic President seeking re-election in the face of a Republican-dominated Congress has two options: Clintonian “triangulation” – trying to cast himself as a moderate caught between the extremes represented by the Congressional parties – and Trumanesque “Give ’em Hell,” sending “a message a week” and setting up the “do-nothing Congress” as his adversary and the adversary of the voters.
Obama’s post-partisanship might seem to fit him for the Clinton role. But since the Republicans who will dominate the House and have the capacity to block action in the Senate are far more interested in his political destruction than they are in advancing the national interest, the situation is going to force him to be a Truman. I suspect he’ll do pretty well at it. The polls show that the public already correctly perceives Obama as wanting to work with the Republicans and the Republicans unwilling to reciprocate.
These Republicans are pretty easy to run against. Wanting to extend tax cuts for the over-paid but not unemployment benefits for the out-of-work can’t really be a popular idea. Neither is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or – I suspect – a new nuclear arms race.
Meanwhile, the latest PPP poll shows Obama carrying Virginia against all his potential rivals in 2012. Yes, it’s possible to make an electoral map where the Republicans carry the White House while losing Virginia. But it’s not easy.