Until now, President Obama has been one of the few Washington players who has resisted the temptation to explicitly link the debt talks to 2012 (compared with, say, Mitch McConnell, who has said his party will be destroyed if the debt ceiling collapses).
But that abruptly changed Friday, when Obama strode sternly into the White House and broke his own tacit rule of never mixing the nation’s business with his own political strategy. “Whoever the Republican nominee is,” he declared, “ we’re going to have a big serious debate about what we believe is the right way to guide American forward and to win the future.”
“And I’m confident that I will win that debate because ... we’ve got the better approach,” he added.
This came minutes after he accused Republicans of playing the same old “Washington” political games.
It’s not clear if Obama, who often accuses his opponents of playing politics while he steers the ship of state, planned to open up a new political front on the GOP or if he was just venting – a la the Greek-default chorus of GOP freshmen who slam him hourly on the Hill. Whatever. He clearly thinks the shift will starch Republican leadership into accepting a deal before the Aug. 2 “Armageddon,” reminding them of how strong a hand he holds, so he was willing to bend his own rules.
But raising 2012 so explicitly could also dent the Obama clean-hands brand, and the president’s top advisers hate it when he has to play in the muddy political playground – like in the waning days of the 2010 midterms – which makes him look like, well, a Washington politician.
On Thursday, he broke a less stringent self-imposed rule: Admitting he’s paying attention to polls – in this case surveys showing that rank-and-file Republicans are actually open to some tax hikes.
That move seemed more calculated. On Thursday, Obama alluded to polls during a round of local TV interviews in battleground states.