Democrats have reason to worry. It is easy to see how a defeat for the president on Syria will effectively bring his presidency to a standstill. But, honestly, even getting his way on Syria will make liberals unhappy.
A presidential loss on a resolution for the use of force would be extraordinary. The rebellion by Democrats that would result in such a defeat would complete the humiliation for President Obama and deprive him of the ability to flail at Republican straw men.
After a loss on the resolution, Republicans and Democrats alike would readily conclude that they don’t have much reason to follow the president’s lead for the remainder of his term. Like the foreign policy he has propounded, Obama would be perceived as weak, unimpressive and easily ignored. If he can’t persuade the country and/or Congress on matters of war and peace, how is he going to sway them on the budget or other domestic matters? His lame-duck status would be a given.
If the resolution fails, those Democrats who went out on a limb on Syria to support the use of force would find themselves vulnerable, while those on the left who rejected the use of force would realize the president’s political survival is at odds with the progressive agenda; the president, they soon would recognize, can be sacrificed for the sake of the left. The dream-boat presidency would be in tatters, with the most liberal elements of the party ready to put Obama behind them.
But if Obama wins then Democrats face a different set of problems. The sequester cuts on defense would prove difficult to sustain. How would they pay for Syria? The Republican leadership that backs the president would have shown some muscle and could beat the rap that they are rejectionists. Having put country before politics, they would be newly confident in any future face-off against Obama. And progressives would be mightily disappointed, seeing their political idol mimic President George W. Bush once again (as he has on drones and the NSA). Moreover, in a country newly engaged in military action — with left and right railing at the president — there may be little appetite for the president’s domestic agenda.
This truly is a lose-lose for Democrats. Voting with the president sacrifices their own political standing with the left for very little, giving up on their “nation building at home” mantra; they’ll be shifting the nation’s agenda to war and endorsing American unilateralism. Abandoning the president on Syria, however, virtually guarantees the president’s collapse. Either way this works, out you can expect a segment of Democrats to give up on him, sending his poll numbers into Bush territory.
All of this said, the president’s personal plea not to humiliate him domestically and internationally may keep sufficient numbers of Democrats on his side to pass the resolution. Those who see the horrible ramifications in the United States’ failure to act should hope he does guilt Democrats into standing by him.
As for Democrats, sooner or later they must decide the fate of their post-Obama party. Syria will only hasten that process and, in all likelihood, and give a boost to the most liberal elements in the party (they’ll either be the aggrieved losers or triumphant in derailing a war). That’s good for the far left and for Republicans (if they can seize the center once again); it’s really bad for Hillary Clinton, who once again will find herself out of step with her party.