© Josh Sager – September 2012
In the face of a major election, people tend to get tunnel vision and fail to look at what will happen after the election is over. Ultimately, while every election is important, the negotiations and interactions of elected officials and parties after the elections are decided are vitally important. If government becomes dysfunctional, then a small minority of politicians is often able to stall progress and prevent an elected majority from pursuing their agenda. Unfortunately, modern politics have become so polarized, and those on the right so extreme, that an Obama reelection will likely result significant conflict in Washington.
With Obama reelected, the Republicans will utilize every possible opportunity to prevent his second term from being successful—this includes blocking legislation as well as ensuring that blame for the pain of the American people is placed squarely upon Obama. They will attempt to prevent any meaningful legislation from passing into law and will take every chance that they can to undermine the Obama agenda.
The primary goal of the Republican Party’s obstruction of the Obama agenda is to prevent any liberal, or even moderate, policies from being signed into law. The conservative movement has swung so far right that moderate policies, even those that they created in previous decades, have become intolerable (ex. the individual mandate). The modern Republican Party isn’t just extreme, but it has also become captured by wealthy/corporate interests. As these interests don’t want their taxes increased, nor do they want any sort of regulations which would cut into their profits (ex. worker/environmental/consumer protections), the Republican Party will do everything within its power to stop Democrats from enacting these policies. Because any significant deviance from the conservative movement’s extreme-right wing agenda is politically fatal to a Republican politician (due to primary challenges), it is unlikely that many Republicans will reach across the picket line and deal with Democrats.
In addition to stalling the passage of a Democratic agenda for the sake of policy, Republicans will attempt to set up a favorable playing field for the 2014 midterm elections as well as the 2016 presidential election. If they can prevent Democrats from being seen as successful and exacerbate the pain of the American people, it will create a situation where the Republicans have the ability to sweep into power during the next electoral cycles; massive voter dissatisfaction creates a climate where the party which is not in power has the Just as the terrible failures and low approval ratings of the Bush presidency brought a wave of Democrats into power during 2008, the Republicans hope to create a similar situation which will benefit them.
Before they begin the organized campaign to sabotage the Democratic agenda and prepare for 2016, the Republicans will go through several levels of denial.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 results, many Republicans will deny the results as well as the legitimacy of the election—this denial will likely be short-lived and isolated to the fringes of the party. We saw an analogous form of this denial in the months before the election, when Republicans refused to believe in the polls that were indicating that they were losing. As with this denial of the polls, the Republican rejection of the reality of their loss will gradually fade and evolve into different types of denial.
After accepting the election loss, the Republican denial will evolve to integrate the loss, and will seek to explain how the election was “stolen” from them. Through alleging that voter impersonation fraud, a “liberal media bias”, and the interference of Hurricane Sandy caused the election result, portions of the Republican Party will attempt to mitigate their loss. Rather than accepting that their ideology (and, in some instances, extreme candidates) caused the country to reject them, these portions of the Republican Party will insulate their ideology from any criticism and will try to blame their loss on a combination of fraud and bad luck. It is likely that this form of denial will become the next “birther” phenomena and it will occupy the extreme fringes of the right for the next few years.
Eventually, the majority of the right wing will accept that Obama won the election legitimately, but they will reject the idea that their conservatism was the reason for the loss; instead of blaming their ideology, they will grasp at the individual characteristics of candidates to explain the losses. In essence, they will argue that their ideology is perfect and should be successful, but that those who they picked to represent their ideology were flawed enough that they lost. This form of denial is very common, and it appears that it will remain for as long as the conservative movement lacks power within the federal government.
The Republican Party will utilize four main tactics in order to achieve their agenda—Obstruct, Extort, Impugn, and Blame
During Obama’s first term, particularly in the post-2010 election years, the Republicans have utilized every obstructionist tactic that they have access to. Obstructionist stalling tactics are aimed at slowing down the government’s decision-making process to the point where it stops functioning; these tactics may not allow a party to pass its agenda, but they are often extremely effective in preventing opposing parties from enacting their agenda. While there are a wide variety of ways that partisans can obstruct policy-making here are a few of the more common examples:
- Stalling legislation in committee (as was done to the ACA)
- Declining to bring legislation up for a vote (as has happened in the House with Democratic legislation from the Senate)
- Maintaining a perpetual filibuster
- Stalling bills through the addition of numerous amendments (each amendment must be voted upon, thus this can take up huge amounts of time)
- Manipulating vote scheduling on order to increase the time it takes to pass legislation (ex. postponing votes until after vacations)
In the American legislature, a majority isn’t needed for many of these types of obstructionism—a committed and highly partisan minority block of politicians can easily disrupt the legislative process. Unfortunately, it appears that the modern Republican Party is both willing and able to obstruct governmental processes in service to their agenda.
By leveraging their control over the House, the Republicans will continue to block every piece of legislation that the Democrats bring forth. We will see the Republican majority in the House utilize parliamentary rules and scheduling in order to prevent any Democratic legislation from passing or, in many cases, even being voted upon. Even when Democratic legislation from the Senate is brought to a vote, it is unlikely that it will pass the unified front of Republican opposition.
In the Senate, the Republican minority will continue its overuse of the filibuster, thus preventing the Democratic majority from passing significant legislation. While it will be possible for the Democratic majority to pass legislation using reconciliation (a process to pass certain legislation with a simple majority), or through heavy compromising with the Republican majority, it is unlikely that any liberal legislation will pass this roadblock.
In the past several years, the Republican Party has utilized a strategy of extorting policy concessions from the Democrats in exchange for fixing crises which they cause. While they are in the minority, the Republicans have enough power to prevent vital legislation from passing and are able to cause significant disruption to the operation of government. Through utilizing this power to disrupt the government, the Republicans have forced the Democrats to make concessions just to pass things that, in normal years, would be bipartisan and uncontroversial.
Here are two examples of this tactic from 2011 and 2012:
- During the fight over the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December of 2011, the Republicans refused to extend unemployment benefits unless the Bush taxes were extended for those making over $250,000. In this situation, the Republicans literally held the economic welfare of the poor hostage (and risked putting the country into recession), in order to preserve tax cuts on the rich.
- During the 2011 fight over the debt ceiling increase, the Republican Party attempted to force draconian cuts on entitlements/social programs in exchange for allowing the debt ceiling to be increased. A failure to increase the debt ceiling is economically irresponsible and would lead to a government default, thus it is wholly inappropriate to use it as a political lever.
By creating a situation where the country, or at least a significant portion of the population, will be harmed unless action is taken, a minority party is able to compel the majority to act. If the majority ignores the crisis created by the minority and it harms the country, the minority can blame the majority (they are in power) and get a PR win. If the majority decides to deal with the minority in order to fix the engineered crisis, then the minority is able to extract policy concessions from the majority that would otherwise be impossible.
In Obama’s second term, there is no reason to assume that the Republicans will stop utilizing their hostage-taking tactics. As they still control the House and enough of the Senate to filibuster, the Republicans will be able to disrupt the government enough that their hostage-taking will remain effective. Throughout Obama’s second term, we will see the Republicans engineer a string of crises in order to compel the Democrats in the Senate and executive branch to acquiesce to Republican demands.
Unfortunately, there is no effective way to combat political hostage-taking by a political party other than to make sure that the guilty party receives most of the blame—the separation of powers and the protections of the partisan minority built into our legislative structure allow an irresponsible party to abuse their power in this way. The primary reasons that this tactic hasn’t been more common are that it is irresponsible and only utilizable by a party which cares more about installing its policy than the welfare of the country.
During Obama’s second term, the Republicans will make every effort to attack his character, as well as that of everybody associated with him. These attacks will not always be based in reality and, in many cases, will be extensions of the right wing frustration that they lost and are unable to rid themselves of Obama for four more years.
These are a few attacks that Obama and the Democrats will face the most during the 2012-2016 presidential term:
- Being labeled as a socialist: The accusation of supporting socialism is a common right wing attack on people who are to their left. Unfortunately, the lack of public understanding of what actually constitutes socialism has led for this attack to be somewhat effective and has resulted in many people thinking that the current Democrats are far farther left than they really are.
- Being labeled as an extremist: Because the right wing has pulled the political spectrum so far to the right, most leftist policies to be suggested will be considered radical and extreme policies. I predict that the rightward trend will continue and that the right wing will label everything that Obama suggests as radical, even if they recently supported it (such as what happened with the individual mandate).
- Challenges to individuals’ “Americanism”: A common attack by the right wing is that their opponents aren’t “real Americans”, “patriots”, or “possessing “American values”. These accusations are really coded attacks on opponents that actually mean: “not white”, “not blindly nationalistic” and “not Christian conservative”. Due to the longstanding use of these attacks by conservatives, it is virtually certain that they will continue to be a significant line of attack during Obama’s second term.
- Accusations that Obama is apologizing for the USA: Throughout his first term, Obama has been besieged with accusations that he is apologizing for the USA when he speaks abroad; these accusations are simply false and exist as a straw-man argument to attack the president with in the absence of any major foreign relations blunders. Barring a significant foreign relations blunder that is actually based in reality, I see no reason why the right wing will do anything but intensify this line of attack on the president into his second term.
By feeding the public a steady dose of accusations against Democrats, coded attacks on Obama, and misinformation against Democratic policies, the Republicans will attempt to poison the American people against the Democratic Party. The blind hatred that most conservatives have for Obama, combined with their frustrated helplessness over losing the election, will exacerbate the frequency and extremity of these attacks far beyond what we have seen directed at past politicians.
In addition to making every effort impugn Obama in the public, I predict that House Republicans will attempt to open numerous investigations and begin a campaign to impeach Obama within a year of Obama’s reelection. I don’t know what the attempt to impeach Obama will be based upon, but I predict that it will originate from a Tea Party congressman and will result in nothing more than several weeks of controversy.
Throughout the next few years, we will see numerous political witch-hunts started by right wing partisans in an attempt to bring down Obama and anybody allied with him. While I predict that these with-hunts will become more common in Obama’s second term, we have already seen several examples of this type of persecution during Obama’s first term. The “fast and furious” scandal—a completely manufactured and specious attack on Eric Holder for a DOJ program gone wrong—is the best example of such a witch-hunt and it is indicative of the types of “scandal” that we will see in the future. It is likely that none of these scandals will actually amount to anything, but they will result in a lot of bad press for the Obama administration and will dog him for the duration of his second term.
During the next four years, the Republicans are going to spend a great deal of time attempting to shift public opinion away from the Democrats. They will blame everything that they can on Obama and the Democratic Party so that by 2016, (the next major election cycle), the Democrats are as unpopular as the Republicans were in 2008. Through convincing the public that the Democrats are to blame for everything wrong with the country, the Republicans will try to gloss over the failure of their policies while simultaneously positioning themselves for significant wins during the next presidential election. If they manage to drive Obama’s poll numbers down to the mid-twenties (like Bush was in 2008), the next Democrat to be running for president will likely be at a significant disadvantage against their Republican challenger.
As the media has largely neglected fact-checking of modern political attacks, the Republican blame machine will completely disregard reality in order to achieve its goal. Republicans will automatically label anything that goes wrong as a Democratic failure and everything that goes correctly as a Republican success, regardless of the facts.
Put plainly: the Republicans will attempt to link literally every hardship, policy failure, and international incident that affects the United States during the next four years to the Democrats and to Obama’s presidency.
Investigation and Impeachment
During Obama’s second term, I predict that the Republicans will launch numerous Congressional investigations and, if at all possible, initiate impeachment attempts upon President Obama. Just as with the “fast and furious” situation, the Congress will fabricate numerous “scandals” in an attempt to attack the executive branch—these attempts need not comply with reality, as they are geared purely at scoring political victories. If any such investigation were to pick up significant traction, I predict that it will become a rallying point for right wing attempts to impeach Obama.
As stated by Mitch McConnell, the top goal of the Republican Party over the last legislative session was to deny Obama a second term. This attempt clearly failed and it stands to reason that these same Republicans will move towards their only option of removing Obama from office early: Impeachment.
Just as we saw with Clinton in his second term, the Republicans in the legislature will grab onto any perceived indiscretion to justify an impeachment attempt. Of the potential accusations which I predict could be the rallying cry for an impeachment attempt, there are two which are more likely to gain traction:
- The use of drone strikes on Americans: While the Republicans have supported the use of drone strikes, it is possible that they will latch onto the drone-based killing of Americans abroad in an attempt to impeach Obama. By claiming that Obama’s drone program violates the constitution, the right wing may attempt to attack his presidency—ironically, this accusation is arguably true and there appears to be a very real potential for attacking Obama along these lines.
- Accusations of Cronyism: As we saw with the Solyndra “scandal” the right wing has no compunction against accusing the president of cronyism and corruption. If they can find a significant case of political donors receiving money or benefits from the government, it is arguable that the right wing could begin impeachment proceedings based upon potential briber/corruption.