Santa Surprises Obama Early
The latest jobs numbers are good, and Sen. Jim DeMint's exit might make fiscal-cliff negotiations easier.
(The Root) -- It looks like Christmas may have come early for the Obama White House, with Santa delivering not one, but two welcome surprises.
First comes some positive jobs numbers -- not just positive but extraordinary. As reported in the Huffington Post, unemployment fell to a four-year low, to 7.7 percent in November. The numbers must be a source of some vindication for the White House, which faced subtle and not-so-subtle allegations from conservative critics that the positive jobs numbers released in October were the equivalent of an "October surprise" -- part of some possible conspiracy to influence the election. The conspiracy theorists got some help from last month's jobs reports, in which unemployment increased a bit.
Then, on Thursday, it was announced that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the Senate's most conservative stalwarts, would be retiring, effective immediately, to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. No one serious about politics believes that DeMint is leaving on a high note, or even on his own terms. DeMint has been the Tea Party's most prominent voice in federal office. The rift that has been brewing in the Republican Party for the last few years, a sort of political civil war, has pitted conservative purists -- some would say extremists -- like DeMint and his Tea Party brethren against the party's more moderate wing.
DeMint famously backed Tea Party darling (and Ron Paul's son) Rand Paul in a Kentucky Senate primary over the GOP establishment's chosen candidate. Though Rand won, it is widely believed that the Tea Party seriously damaged the overall party's brand with the public at large, particularly independent voters. Two high-profile Tea Party candidates lost to Democrats in Senate races that Republicans should have easily won this election cycle: Richard Mourdock, who defeated legendary Indiana senator, and widely respected moderate, Dick Lugar in a primary before being defeated by Joe Donnolly in the general election; and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, who was upset by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in his race for Senate.
So what does all of this mean for the Obama White House? For starters, the president may soon have a new high-profile African-American adversary. There is rampant speculation that Tim Scott, soon to be the lone African-American Republican in Congress following the defeat of Allen West, is the front-runner to replace DeMint in the Senate. Scott has been dubbed a rising GOP star as a Tea Party-approved candidate who isn't as polarizing as West but who also helps the party in terms of diversity.
But the more immediate impact is that fiscal-cliff negotiations just got a lot easier -- for the president most of all, but also for Republican House Speaker John Boehner. Here's why. It has been widely reported that Boehner is actually open to compromise, and has been all along, but the challenge has been corralling the most extreme members of his party, those for whom the word "compromise" is synonymous with defeat. The exit of DeMint should empower Boehner to reclaim the reins with some of the Tea Partiers who looked to DeMint for guidance, as opposed to the speaker. If he can get some of them in line sooner rather than later, then he and the White House should be able to hammer out a deal and avoid taking our country over the fiscal cliff.
And the jobs numbers help, too. As I wrote previously, President Obama is already winning the public relations battle on the fiscal cliff. It was just revealed that his current approval ratings are now at the highest they have been since the death of Osama bin Laden. This latest jobs report will only reinforce the idea that the president is actually getting things done, while his opponents in Congress are focused on avoiding compromise at the expense of the American people.
During a discussion on NPR's Tell Me More, I mentioned that the real battle over the fiscal cliff would not be between the president and Republicans but among Republicans as they started to turn on one another during fiscal-cliff talks in the interest of self-preservation. In the eyes of some, DeMint's departure represents the first casualty in this brewing GOP civil war, but he is unlikely to be the last.