Can Republicans “Disengage” from Obama?
Ramesh Ponnuru has some good advice for Republicans:
The less they define themselves as an anti-Obama party, the more Republicans will avoid a pitfall that conservative pollster David Winston has identified: The public sees hostility as playing a more important role than principle in Republicans’ opposition to Obama. A party that aspires to governing the country should avoid looking petty.
Republicans would do well to follow that advice. This is one of the party’s problems that is mostly a matter of perception, so it should be one of the easiest to fix. The danger for Republicans and conservatives is that the 2012 election put them in exactly the wrong frame of mind to “build a post-Obama future for conservatism.” I see two things that are most likely to prevent Republicans from taking Ponnuru’s advice. Because many Republicans and conservatives assumed the worst about what would follow Obama’s re-election (this was the “Obama unleashed” idea), they are going to be more inclined to try “winning a series of confrontations with the president” rather than less. The other problem is that many Republicans are likely to continue reacting to Obama’s re-election as they did to Clinton’s, which was a combination of disbelief that he had won and an increased obsession with “getting” him by way of investigations and scandals.
The good news is that Republicans have an opportunity in the near future to demonstrate that they won’t go this route. If most Senate Republicans vote against Hagel, it would be perceived as evidence that hostility to Obama and sheer spite against Hagel dominate the party to an extraordinary degree. It is already a near-certainty that Republicans cannot defeat Hagel’s nomination, their objections to his nomination are spurious when they aren’t malicious, and they vote against him to their own discredit. This ought to be an easy case when Republicans can follow Ponnuru’s advice, since it involves voting to confirm a member of their own party. If they can’t bring themselves to do that, it’s doubtful that they will be able to “disengage” from Obama on more difficult and contentious issues.