This year's Republican landslide was rooted in the party's ability to forge a coalition of independents and more conservative Tea Party voters, even though these groups don't always neatly overlap. The clear strategy of the White House in the coming two years is to try and force Republicans to take stances on issues that would highlight the differences between these groups and drive them apart. One potential issue for the White House to exploit is extending unemployment benefits, a measure which many conservatives (rightly, in my view) object to, but which is more popular among the broader population. Republicans were likely to eventually cave on this issue anyway, because they're wary of being portrayed as uncompassionate and extreme, a caricature that haunted Newt Gingrich and House Republicans after the 1994 GOP takeover. Under normal circumstances, Republicans' caving on unemployment benefits would probably trigger a backlash on the right, but now that Republicans seem to have agreed to an extension as part of a larger deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, that criticism is likely to be a lot more muted. Now, instead of the attention being on Republicans, all of the focus is going to be on Obama's more significant capitulation. Basically, one way or another, there was going to be an unemployment extension, but Obama has now made it a lot easier for Republicans to justify it to their base.
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