Editor’s Note: Robert Zimmerman has been a Democratic National Committee member since 2000. He is a partner at Zimmerman/Edelson Inc., a marketing, advertising and public relations firm based in New York.
AC360° Contributor and CNN Political Analyst
Perhaps it is the result of Valentine's Day and President's Day falling on the same weekend. But I cannot help wondering if President Obama's bipartisan game plan will lead to a very smart strategy, unrequited love or a fatal attraction. It is certainly not an affair to remember. Sorry for that but the Oscars are coming up.
While the media and pundit community obsess about whether the Obama Administration's strategy for bipartisanship is smart or successful, it is just as critical to explore the partisan strategy of Republican Congressional leaders and their members.
As the nation demands solutions for our critical and historically challenging economic problems, there is an outcry for our President and Congress to put the bickering and partisanship aside and change the tone in Washington. Mr. Obama campaigned on that theme and has pursued the bipartisan message in office. And his approval ratings are at record numbers: the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey put his approval rating at 76%. Other polls have Obama's approval ratings in the mid- to high 60s. Those strong ratings have given political confidence to newly elected conservative Senate Democrats from very Republican states to support his agenda. (Yes, if President Obama's numbers drop their support for his proposals could drift.)
The President's high approval ratings might also isolate his Republican congressional opponents. During the height of the debate about the stimulus package, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. reported that three out of four poll respondents said that President Obama is doing enough to cooperate with the Republicans in Congress but only 39% felt that congressional Republicans are cooperating with the President. In addition to three out of four Democrats supporting the bill, 51% of independents and 32% of Republicans also favor it.
While response from independents and Republicans at the grass roots may not appear overwhelming, it bears serious reflection. With the exception of Senators Collins, Snowe and Specter, the unanimous opposition from Republican House and Senate members demonstrates their disconnect from the mainstream and from a third of their already very limited base.
Now we all know the response from the Republican Congressional leadership. They claimed that they were not brought in as partners or included in the process. Their feelings were hurt when they were reminded that they lost the election. Now, I get a kick out of a good spin as much as anyone, but I need Dramamine to go with this one.
Yes, it was widely reported that the Republicans were courted with cocktails and a Super Bowl party which prompted some Republicans to say they were treated like a cheap date. The media did not report with the same attention that the Democratic congressional leadership cut almost $100 billion dollars from the economic stimulus package in an effort to earn more Republican support. I cannot speak for Republican dating habits, but $100 billion dollars certainly trumps flowers and chocolates if you want to say I care.
The Republican members of Congress were part of public hearings starting in October before three different Congressional committees on the stimulus package. They were given numerous opportunities to present amendments and a number changes were made in this bill including additional tax cuts and direct spending. They participated as much as they chose to. Of course, when the House Republican Leader John Boehner urged his members to oppose the President's plan even before he spoke before the entire House Republican conference, it did not take two-time NFL Coach of the Year Bill Belichick to figure out the game plan.
Yes, it is true that the Republicans are activating their base in this debate but it remains a very narrow one. It is also true that they have found their voice. However, that voice appears to belong to Rush Limbaugh. The Democrats capitalized on Rush Limbaugh's statement that he wants President Obama to fail. They argue that he articulates the thinking of the Republican leadership. Those Democratic claims sounded particularly exaggerated even to a Democrat like me. However, the conduct of the Republican members of Congress and their leaders in response to the economic stimulus debate only helps make the Democratic Party's case.
If the Republican Party and its members in Congress have any hope of broadening their base and appeal, then Limbaugh's script and his relationship with the Republican leadership could be their fatal attraction.°
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with