How the GOP Lost the Shutdown Fight

Republicans lost this round of the epic budget battle because they still don't take the president seriously.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House John Boehner (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

They Believed Their Own Press Releases

 Plus, as I wrote last week, Obama has consistently run a middle course during his tenure, and most voters recognize this. If he really had turned out to be the socialist apologist-in-chief that his opponents often say he is, then they’d have been able to grab the upper hand in this fight.

But after the president adopted Mitt Romney’s health coverage plan, made good on his 2008 promise to “kill bin Laden” and used the occasion of his March on Washington 50th anniversary speech to lecture that “too often” calls for civil rights have been “framed as a mere desire for government support,” Obama’s clearly dismissed any suggestion that he’s a flaming left-winger.

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

And while the precedent for the shutdown-debt-ceiling standoff was set when Obama and Democrats agreed to a lower, “sequester”-level budget resolution in an effort to avoid a government default back in 2011, it should have been apparent why this time was different.

Obama had to compromise two years ago, because Republicans hadn’t yet shown voters that they’d turn a default threat into a routine negotiation tactic. This time, though, the president could claim that he was forced to end the threat, even if it meant negotiating way past the 11th hour.

In the end, just like members of Congress, Obama’s a politician. He’ll horse-trade (think “Don’t ask, don’t tell”), he’ll dodge (think Guantánamo Bay) and he’ll offer concessions that his supporters don’t like (think “chained CPI” for Social Security). But Obama can’t bargain with adversaries if they won’t take him seriously. And with this president, there are bargains to be had.

Next time, they should make him an offer that isn’t quite so easy to refuse.

 David Swerdlick is a contributing editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.