Spengler, the eminent columnist for the Asia Times, doesn’t invoke George Armstrong Custer, as I do below, to show how the GOP could be outmaneuvered by President Obama on the debt ceiling. But I think he has the same general idea:
President Barack Obama’s best hope of re-election lies in provoking Republicans to force the United States into technical default, engineering a brief but severe financial crisis in order to appear as crisis-manager-in-chief. The Tea Party movement may be marching into a political ambush, in which Obama will be able to portray the born-again budget-cutters as irresponsible fanatics who threaten to tip America into a new depression. The now unpopular president then would assume the role of national savior in time of crisis.
Stanley Kurtz has a good analysis of the Spengler column, noting that Spenger is a Tea Party fan but (like me) believes that the compromise option put forward by Senator Mitch McConnell is probably the GOP’s best bet. Kurtz points out that Spengler (whose real name is David Goldman) knows a lot about the U.S. banking system and therefore his opinion in this matter should carry weight. Spengler presents a post-default scenario that ends like this:
In that event, the Obama administration would declare an emergency, summon bankers to Washington for crisis-management sessions, slash every form of spending except for coupon payments on Treasuries, and so forth. Markets would swoon over the uncertainty. And the president would be on television denouncing the lunatics who brought things to this point. Congress would pass emergency legislation, markets would snap back, and Obama would declare himself a national savior.
It is disheartening to me that the McConnell option continues to fare badly on the (non-scientific!) NRO Poll-only 19 percent of those voting agree with me that the McConnell deal is looking better this week than it did when the senator put it forward. It looks worse to nearly half-49 percent-of those who responded, and the same to roughly a third.
The GOP in the House has made a principled stand but it looks like the Obama administration and its friends in the media would be able to hang default and subsequent economic woes around the necks of the Republicans. It’s not fair. But this is going to be a long war, and it’s not this skirmish we must win.
Clarke Judge, speechwriter and a GOP insider, doesn’t see it this way. Judge believes that, if the GOP holds firm, the debt ceiling debate will redound to its credit. Judge argues, for example, that it would be easy to place blame any failure to send out Social Security checks where it belongs: on President Obama, who gets to decide what bills are paid in the event of a default. (I disagree–the GOP will be unfairly blamed if this happens.) Judge believes the courage to stand firm would pay off big:
The national tea party movement is just the most vocal element in this much larger wave. By and large, polling has not captured it. Pollsters follow the movements of demographic groups or the changing preferences of party loyalists and independents. They typically do not try to identify something like Bush voters of 2004 who became Obama voters in 2008 and GOP House voters in 2010. The tea party is the first broadly based American political insurgency since California’s Proposition 13 in the 1970s. Sure, its fervor will make the old guard uncomfortable, but intensity is what the GOP needs.
In short, the tea party movement is Reaganism updated. A contest has been fought over and over in Washington since Republicans embraced cutting tax rates and nondefense spending under Ronald Reagan in the early ’80s. When Republicans have united behind these priorities, they have won elections. Nervous Republicans should bear that in mind when they begin to go wobbly on something as basic as reining in spending and refusing to raise taxes. And achieving that unity has always been difficult.
Judge apparently has nerves of steel. I wish I believed him to be right on this, but I just don’t see the GOP thriving if a deal is not reached. I want to be with Judge on this, but I’m with Spengler.