It is not clear if anyone in the White House with independent judgment or common sense is left. Judging from the administration’s decision to go all-in for anti-gun legislation you’d have to conclude the answer is no. Not only has President Obama expended capital on something that could have proved successful (e.g. entitlement reform), he’s headed for an embarrassing defeat. It will not go unnoticed that the initiative most likely to succeed (immigration reform) is the one in which he is the least involved (other than to toss spitballs into the Gang of 8 deliberations designed to spook Republicans).
To recap Obama’s year: He began with a hyperpartisan, uber-liberal inaugural address that got rotten reviews. He then got whittled down to spare all but a sliver of the top income earners from expiration of the Bush tax cuts. He dumped Susan Rice from consideration as secretary of state, to his base’s dismay. Then he proceeded to nominate surely the most dull-witted secretary of defense in history, forcing Democrats to defend a gaffe-prone purveyor of noxious sentiments about our only real ally in the Middle East and giving Republicans a rare occasion for agreement. He has failed to put out a budget and has been scrambling to catch up to the Gang of 8. Iran and North Korea are threatening to make his “world without nukes” into a real-life James Bond movie in which every crackpot villain has one or two. But the president is running around the country pleading for gun-control measures — which a good number of Senate Democrats won’t support.
And we’re less than three months into the second term.
If, as it now appears, the president’s anti-gun initiatives go nowhere, a number of negative consequences may flow:
1. Kim Strassel notes, “Two top Democratic donors (Buzzfeed.com Chairman Kenneth Lerer and tech guru David Bohnett) last week informed the party that they’d no longer give to any Democrats who wouldn’t support comprehensive background checks, and they’d encourage more donors to impose that litmus test.”
2. In an off-year election, where conservative turnout is a larger percentage of the electorate than in a presidential year, the fate of the gun legislation may further depress Democratic turnout in 2014.
3. Obama’s defeat, not unlike President George W. Bush’s wipeout on Social Security reform early in his second term, will feed the lame-duck meme, making other initiatives that much harder to achieve.
4. Obama’s gun folly will frustrate moderate Democrats, including mainstream pundits who worry that he has lost whatever opportunity there was for economic initiatives such as entitlement or tax reform.
5. House Republicans have expended no energy or capital on this, and retain the argument that for all his talk, the president never manages to “pivot to jobs.”
6. As Obamacare glitches pile up, Obama’s anti-gun flight of fancy will give fuel to critics who claim he took the eye off the ball and failed to attend to his most important legacy, health-care reform.
Republicans, however, should not celebrate prematurely. The president might pull some small victory out, allowing him to escape the ire of his base. They should remind voters of the items for which there could have been bipartisan agreement.
The real lesson of the gun-control debate is that the president lacks a sound political radar and has a grossly exaggerated sense of his own influence. Without strong voices in the White House to sound warnings and tell the president bad news, it is unlikely to be the last major flub of his second term.