Obama's new majority?
In the 20th century, only two presidents shaped new governing coalitions that outlasted them. They were the only two men to appear on five national tickets.
The first was FDR, who rang down the curtain in 1932 on the seven decades of Republican hegemony that had seen only two Democrats in the White House. Franklin Roosevelt would win four terms, and his party would win the presidency in seven of nine elections between 1932 and 1968.
Richard Nixon was the next craftsman of a governing coalition. He cobbled together a New Majority that would give the GOP four victories in five elections between 1972 and 1988.
Roosevelt and Nixon both employed the politics of conflict and confrontation, not conciliation, to smash the old coalition. Find me something to veto, Roosevelt once said to his aides, seeking to start a fight with his adversaries to rally his grumbling troops.
He believed that if a slice of the electorate was incorrigibly hostile, one ought not appease or court them, but use them as a whipping boy to rally the majority.
With FDR, the foil was Wall Street. With Nixon it was urban rioters and campus anarchists and their academic apologists and elite enablers, and the demonstrators who blocked troop trains and carried Viet Cong flags.
Barack Obama seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of these coalition builders. Since re-election, he has been actively seeking out confrontations to drive wedges through the Republican Party.
Rather than do a deal with Speaker John Boehner and offer one-for-one budget cuts for tax hikes, the president forced congressional Republicans into a humiliating climb-down and public retreat that split the House majority asunder.
Obama's selection of White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew for Treasury secretary, a former budget director whose intransigence in negotiations antagonized Hill Republicans, looks to be another fight the president is picking to portray the GOP as obstructionists who cannot accept the verdict of 2012.
The president is also taking a no-negotiations stance on the debt ceiling, saying he refuses to pay ransom to the GOP to prevent their destroying the nation's credit rating. Republicans would do well to walk this terrain before choosing to fight upon it.
The coming gun battle, too, is one in which Obama seems to be seeking a clash where, should he lose on the assault weapons ban, he wins with the public and tars Republicans as lapdogs of the National Rifle Association. And the next time a massacre occurs, is there any doubt whom the Democrats will hold responsible?
The president has many weapons in his coming clashes with the congressional Republicans. He has the presidency itself, the bully pulpit. He has forums like the inaugural address and State of the Union that Republicans cannot match.
He has a press that deeply dislikes the Republican right and serves as his echo chamber. And while the White House speaks with a single voice, the Republican Party is a cacophony of voices.
With demography moving against the GOP, with more and more Americans becoming dependent upon government, it will take leadership not yet visible to rescue the Republican Party from the fate Barack Obama has in store for it.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”
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