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Prudence and Republican Vindication

It looks as if the sequestration drama is taking a toll on the president. In two recent polls (see here and here) his approval ratings have dipped into the 40s. In addition, a CBS News poll shows that on the matter of sequestration 38 percent of Americans place more blame on the Republicans in Congress, while 33 percent blame President Obama and the Democrats in Congress more for the difficulty in reaching agreement on spending cuts. (Among independents, 33 percent blame Republicans, 31 percent blame Obama.) This is hardly the tidal wave of opposition to the GOP that Democrats were counting on.

In addition, a story in Politico highlights Democratic concerns with how Obama has dealt with sequestration. “I think they probably went over the top in terms of saying that the consequences were going to be horrible, especially because it’s happened and the lines in the airports aren’t long, the world hasn’t changed overnight,” former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell said. He added, “it probably wasn’t the best strategic path for the White House to follow.”

Indeed. The various acts of the sequestration drama include the president misleading Americans about whose idea sequestration was (Act I),; predicting consequences from sequestration that rivaled the most vivid verses in the Book of Revelations (Act II); backing away from his apocalyptic warnings once the cuts were set to go into effect (Act III) even as he tries to inflict maximize pain on the American people in hopes that they will turn on his opposition (Act IV).

The public doesn’t seem to be particularly enchanted with the Obama modus vivendi.

All of this seems to vindicate, I think, those of us who urged Republicans to veer away from a showdown with Obama over the debt ceiling in order to confront him on sequestration.

As I told Townhall’s Guy Benson during an interview in mid-January, as Republicans were engaged in the debt ceiling debate:

I just think that unfortunately the sequencing is very bad. We’ve got the debt ceiling debate before the continuing resolution and sequestration. Those things are going to come; that’s much stronger ground for Republicans to make the argument… If you’re going to make that fight, you’ve got to — the term of art is you have to be willing to shoot the hostage. Republicans won’t do it on the debt ceiling issue. I don’t think that they should. But if you got to, say, sequestration, I do think that Republicans have a much stronger hand because the Obama administration and the president himself don’t want sequestration. And the Republicans do.

To their credit, Speaker Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan convinced House Republicans to avoid a fight on the debt ceiling in favor of one on sequestration. This was the exercise of a supreme political virtue, prudence. It showed the capacity to pick battles with care and discretion. It’s true that some on the right were urging Republicans to go to the mat on the debt ceiling issue, which would have been a disaster, but fortunately cooler and wiser heads prevailed.

Republicans are still in a weakened state. But the situation would be far worse if they had not avoided the fiscal version of Pickett’s Charge. 


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