Not even a week has passed since President Obama officially began his second term, and already Republicans sound a little scared.
“We’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party,” said House Speaker John Boehner in an address to the Ripon Society on Tuesday. “And let me just tell you,” he continued, “I do believe that is their goal–to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”
Boehner’s remarks came just a day after Obama gave his second inaugural address, a speech Politico’s Glenn Thrush described as “the most liberal he has ever delivered as president.” Judging by Boehner’s pessimistic outlook on the future of his party, it seems the speaker would agree. And he is not alone.
“Obviously, the president would like to see the Republicans lose the majority in the House and lose the Senate,” said Republican strategist John Feehery on Hardball Thursday. “[Obama] wants to get through his agenda, and his agenda is far different than John Boehner’s… [Obama] wants to break the backs of the Republicans,” said Feehery.
The president did lay out a starkly different agenda from that of the Republican party on Monday–one that promises to advance gay rights, wage war on poverty, show more tolerance to illegal immigrants, and promote other progressive priorities. But does it follow that “if somebody opposes you politically, they’re out to annihilate you?” asked Hardball host Chris Matthews on Thursday.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum says no, the president is not out to destroy the GOP; he’s out to represent the majority of Americans who re-elected him. “The mainstream in this country has moved, and the president represents it… In that inaugural address, Barack Obama didn’t just speak to America; he was speaking for America, no matter how much that pains Republicans to hear. They’re out of step and out of the mainstream,” said Shrum on Hardball Thursday.
Beginning with Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Republicans made it their mission to block the president’s agenda at all costs. In his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do, Robert Draper writes about the steakhouse meeting among about 15 Republicans, who reportedly hatched a plot to “show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.” And in a 2010 interview with the National Journal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made headlines for his now infamous remark, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Since the election, however, the GOP has been experiencing a civil war of sorts on issues ranging from the fiscal cliff to Sandy relief. Members of the Republican National Committee are now meeting in North Carolina to figure out how to deal with the party’s deep divisions. But maybe the cure for the Republican Party’s discord in fact lies in the rebirth of liberalism, as articulated by the president in his address.
“I think the president’s speech on Monday did a wonderful thing for Republicans,” said Feehery. “It got them united. It got them fired up. He said nothing that anybody in any red states would say.”
Shrum cautioned against such thinking. “The red states are becoming a shrinking part of America,” he countered. “The one thing Boehner said that is true is that the Republican Party is annihilating itself in terms of being able to win the presidency… They are in a demographic death spiral with women, with Hispanics, with African-Americans, with young people, with gays.” If the party cannot reverse these demographic trends, said Shrum, “it will be a long time before we see a Republican president.”