Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, left, listens to House Minority leader John
Boehner, right, during a news conference following their bi-partisan meeting with Barack
Obama on January 5.

Obama Gives Republicans Reason to Celebrate

January 25, 2009 08:00 AM
by Christopher Coats
Defying expectations from within his own party and proving his promises of cross-aisle cooperation were more than just campaign lip service, President Obama has given some conservatives reason to celebrate.

Obama a “Closet Republican?”

Despite two consecutive election year losses and minorities in both houses of Congress, some Republicans are optimistic about how conservative issues will be addressed under the Obama administration.

Although conservatives derided him as a dangerously liberal candidate during his campaign against John McCain, Republican legislators and pundits are now witnessing a president with the potential to work alongside them to pass legislation.

Pointing to Obama’s embracement of the Bush administration’s stance on wiretapping and his inclusion of tax cuts in his economic stimulus package, conservatives have also seen a president that will not always follow the path of his party.

Citing the enormity of the challenges facing the new administration, the New York Post’s Charles Hurt called the Obama presidency the GOP’s “Golden Opportunity.” Hurt says the president will have to reach out and accommodate Republican demands and concerns to not only pass new legislation, but to live up to his promise of nonpartisanship.

“If President [Barack] Obama’s promise of post-partisanship is realized, you need some cooperation from Congress,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, according to Roll Call.

This promise of reaching across the aisle, which has already resulted in close and friendly working relationships with staunch conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn, could offer Republicans the chance to push and pass their own legislation despite their minority status.

“What that means, in practical terms, is that he must find Republicans with whom he can work on a reasonably regular basis,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, noting that the loss of Republicans in traditionally moderate areas of the country, like New England, will make Obama’s outreach to conservatives that much more important.

Further, The Washington Independent reports that Obama’s willingness to work closely alongside Congressional Republicans could offer a strategic advantage to the GOP, allowing them to side with a popular president without necessarily aligning themselves with the Democratic Party.

Obama’s open courting of conservatives, despite his party’s congressional majorities, has seen the president attending a private dinner with conservative columnists and pundits, continuing close relationships with Senate Republicans and exchanging cordial words with Republican leaders.

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Response: Suspicion on both sides

However, this close working relationship does not have universal support on either side of the aisle. 

While conservative disappointment has come from commentators like Rush Limbaugh, some Congressional Democrats have begun to express their frustration at Obama’s actions and plans for the future.

Figures like John Conyers and Henry Waxman have previously expressed their excitement for a Democratic White House to support quick action on investigating the Bush White House and global warming, respectively, only to welcome a more cautious and centrist president.

Opinion & Analysis: Bridging the “ideological divide”

Regardless of how critics of Obama’s outreach efforts feel, some have suggested that it won’t last long anyway. Politico’s Josh Kraushaar suggests that Obama concentrate his attention of five key Republican leaders instead of casting a wider net as the impact of his efforts are unlikely to last very long given the existing ideological divide.

Background: Obama’s record with Republicans

Despite campaign comments questioning Obama’s plans for legislation, some conservative commentators have seen a kindred soul with new president for some time. In 2004, Lucas Morel offered his observations of the freshmen Senator from Illinois in an essay titled “Barack Obama: A Republican Soul Trapped Inside a Democrat’s Body.”

“With unity as the mandate for the Democratic Convention, a little known State Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, took the ball and ran so far with it that this listener thought he was witnessing Obama’s conversion to the Grand Old Party,” Morel wrote.

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