On their way to wresting control of the House of Representatives and consolidating their ranks in the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s midterm elections, conservative Republicans managed to turn a self-described former witch into a "constitutional conservative" while calling Barack Obama — a former constitutional lawyer — an enemy of the Constitution.
They got indignant when Obama changed the game plan for a war that they couldn’t finish, and when he appointed a Latina to the Supreme Court with a résumé tailor-made for the highest court in the land, they said she wasn't qualified.
But the neatest trick that the Tea Party-infused GOP pulled off was convincing voters that President Obama was a closet socialist for taking measures that almost any Republican president from the last century would have co-signed. If you're in the Obama-equals-socialist camp, that might sound ridiculous, but here's a thought:
Obama might really be a Republican.
He's the remaining heir in a long line of low-boil "Rockefeller" Republicans, and with a new Congress shifting hard right and promising to cut the federal government to the bone, he might wind up as the last president that the old Grand Old Party has.
That Obama is, in fact, a Democrat says less about him than it does about the odds that in the last half century, a black multimillionaire with a young family would seek (or find) a political home in the GOP. Even the two new black Republicans in the House can credit Obama's ascendancy for opening up their window of opportunity.
If Obama is a socialist, then so are a bunch of his GOP predecessors, and maybe one or two of his potential Republican successors. If he actually was in the GOP, conservatives would call Obama the same thing they now call the Bushes and McCains of the world: RINOs — Republicans in name only.
And Obama lived up to that charge by playing to type. While he was busy governing, he left voters in middle America to conclude that he was the pensive arugula-eating, corndog-eschewing Harvard elitist they'd heard about. His political challenge going forward will be shedding his restrained "change" image and matching up a little more closely with his flagrantly "same" public-policy choices:
You've heard that Obama is anti-business, right? But the Dow was down near 7,000 in Obama's first 100 days, and it's been above 10,000 for more than a year. Your job might not be secure, but your company's CEO and your broker are secretly a lot happier that Sen. Obama voted for George W. Bush's TARP plan and carried it out as president.
Unlike George H.W. Bush's "read my lips" tax increase in the face of 1990's recession, Obama's stimulus plugged a hole in the leaking national economy and still managed to rebate $288 billion in taxes to the middle class.
It's hard to imagine President Gerald Ford, a native of Michigan and former House minority leader, not doing exactly the same thing as Obama: propping up General Motors to salvage the Big Three automakers and their Midwestern supply chain so that Ford Motor Co. could announce $1.69 billion in third-quarter profits.
Debating Sen. John McCain in 2008, Obama said: "Part of the reason I think it's so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan." McCain couldn't have said it better himself.
Conservative folk hero Ronald Reagan signed off on amnesty for illegal immigrants back in 1986 — maybe Obama still has time to catch up.
Love it or hate it, "Obamacare" is just a nationwide version of "Romneycare" — the insurance mandate scheme designed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and approved by then-State Sen. Scott Brown, the first Tea Party-backed congressional winner who, as a U.S. Senator, has voted with Obama on every big issue except health care.
None of this makes Obama a hard-core conservative, but that's the point. Until recently, Republicans weren't hard core. Before the GOP was the party of Goldwater, Reagan and Bush fils, it was the party of Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush père. They'd have done what Obama has been doing.
Now that hard-boiled Republicans have control, they'll either decide to pay lip service to right-wing issues or buckle down and take the country a lot farther to the right, because they'll find that Obama has already grabbed the low-hanging conservative fruit.
What they won't find at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is a socialist.
They'll find out that guiding the country through an economic storm is harder than taking the country by storm. They'll find out that a lot of Obama's agenda so far has been safely ferrying the free world to quitting time every Friday for 100 weeks in a row. They'll find out that without purged conservatives like Sen. Bob Bennett, moderates like Rep. Mike Castle and liberals like new Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, they could be in for a rough ride.
They'll find that Obama might be all that's left of a grand old party that now scarcely exists.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.