The Long Game

by evanmcmurry

Greg Sargeant gets down and dirty with sequester polling numbers. The headline you’ve been reading is that Obama’s approval rating is suffering from the sequester cuts. It is—but not as much as Republicans are getting blamed for the cuts. Quoting Sargeant:

  • “72 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of independents and 81 percent of moderates, disapprove of the Congressional GOP.
  • “Americans disapprove of the sequester cuts by 53-39; 64 percent say they’ll hurt the economy; 60 percent say they’ll hurt the government’s ability to provide basic services; and 69 percent say they’ll hurt the military.
  • “Americans hold Congressional Republicans responsible for the sequester cuts by 47-33.
  • “68 percent want Obama and the GOP to work together to avert the cuts, while only 28 percent want them to continue (the conservative position).”

In the short term, this seems like a winning GOP strategy: just hold your breath while Obama’s post-election popularity slowly erodes. And I guess if your goal is to attack a weakened President for the next four-to-eight weeks, that’ll work.

But this little stalemate seems more than roughly analogous to the debt ceiling debate, when approval ratings for both the GOP House and Obama suffered as a result of the debt ceiling fiasco, which even possible life on Mars could tell occurred at the insistence of intransigent Republican House members. Go forward a couple of months, though, and you see Obama’s numbers rebound: in fact, directly following the debt ceiling debate Obama began the climb that culminated in his 2012 reelection, and while correlation does not equal causation, it’s not hard to read Obama’s recuperation in the public eye as a response to a party that seemed intent on non-governance. Not surprisingly, the GOP’s numbers never went back up; as Obama began his (modest) rise in September of 2011, the GOP, which had showed momentum earlier in the year, stayed at the dismal approval levels that led to their shellacking in 2012.

Moral of the story: inflicting an arbitrary crisis on the government is a Pyrrhic victory. It wounds the President—temporarily. It does nothing for the opposition causing the crisis. As I argued yesterday, Republicans seem dead set on giving Dems as much chance in 2014 as possible, and this sequester move looks to be part and parcel with that. It’s the long-term strategy of a group of House Republicans in safely redrawn districts, not anybody concerned with winning power on a national scale.