I spent a lot of time yesterday going back and forth with myself about what I liked and didn’t like in Ezra Klein’s post on the end of the White House’s “inside game” strategy and the need for an “outside game” that features speaking to the country.
What I’ve come up with is that neither of these are really the crucial game. What’s been missing from Obama’s approach is what, for lack of a pithy name, I’ll call “objective political pressure.” One of the striking things about the Obama presidency is that throughout his time in office not a single Republican Senator has been in serious fear that he or she is going to lose her seat in 2010. That was true even when Obama’s approval ratings were in the high-sixties. And it’s true even though Obama won a number of seats represented by Republicans.
This is the big contrast with Bush’s first term. Democrats were less-than-resolute in their opposition to Bush’s ideas in large part because many of them correctly perceived themselves to be in electoral peril. Generating electoral peril is often equated with “outside game”—speechmaking—but there’s much more to it than that. Indeed, “mobilizing public opinion” is probably the least important part of it. It comes down to a lot of political nitty-gritty. Recruiting top-tier challengers. Raising funds. Getting the oppo done. Making sure the party committees are committed to electing new members and not just defending incumbents. Dispatching surrogates.
The Obama/Baucus theory of writing a bipartisan health care bill seemed to basically amount to “have a lot of meetings with Chuck Grassley.” A different theory would be “have Tom Vilsack run against Chuck Grassley with a nice war chest so Grassley feels it’s in his interests to strike a deal.”