The Insiders: As trust in government erodes, Obama’s plans evaporate

June 3, 2013

When President Obama was reelected to his second term in November 2012, his supporters were vocal about wanting a larger, more activist government. Seven months later, it’s fair to say those who don’t want to see the government reach further into our lives — or for that matter, don’t want much of anything to happen in Washington and who are usually identified as belonging to the Republican Party — are stronger today than they were on Inauguration Day in 2013.

For much to happen in Washington, there needs to be a majority, or at least a large plurality of voters, who trust the notion that Washington activism will have a positive effect.  The current scandals, combined with President Obama’s lethargy and lack of planning, have driven trust in government to a recent new low. This strengthens the hand of those who don’t want anything to pass in Congress. An AP/GFK poll from April 2013 shows that only 21 percent of Americans “trust the government in Washington to do what’s right” either “just about always” or “most” of the time. Senator Marco Rubio recognizes this now-pervasive sentiment, referring to “the lack of trust in the federal government, and in particular, in this administration” when discussing border security concerns in the immigration reform bill.

Ironically, it’s entirely possible that sequestration will end up being the most consequential piece of legislation that passes in President Obama’s second term. Neither side really wanted it to go into effect, and since the consequences are mostly passing unnoticed, it’s unlikely that it will be substantially amended.

The president has lost any kind of momentum he may have had coming into his second term, and with his administration on the rocks, it doesn’t seem likely that he will gain any traction in the coming months. My friend and former Clinton Administration official Doug Sosnik hit the nail on the head when he said, “There’s not a single member of either party who fears paying a political price for not falling in line with the president, making it even more difficult to get members to cast difficult votes.”

The growing lack of trust between the governed and the government confirms the beliefs — or at least the suspicions — of many conservative members of the House Republican caucus. They have no reason to bend to the will of Obama and his allies. Obama got his tax increase and House Republicans don’t believe that they’ll benefit from any further capitulation. Some Republican members see compromise as an abandonment of their principles in allowing some harm to the public good to be done. I don’t see what is going to happen to change this equation. And with the growing lack of trust in government, I also don’t see Obama being effective by trying to rule by executive order. With so few people trusting in government, attempting to govern by fiat could only serve to alienate voters the Democrats need in 2014.

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Jonathan Bernstein | June 3, 2013