“The president is very confident in his team,” Plouffe said on CNN on Sunday when asked whether heads should roll in the White House. “And the direction we’ve laid out here.”
Plouffe’s defenders inside the White House argue that until recently he calculated that aggression against Republicans would hurt the economy and the president’s political standing with independents. Fighting might make liberal groups feel good, White House officials said privately, but it isn’t reasonable.
And Barack Obama is a reasonable man.
There is also a less-sanctioned sense within the White House that Plouffe’s above-the-fray path was safe for the naturally cautious president. The problem, according to people in and close to the administration, was the lack of a strong voice to counter Plouffe, who had absorbed many of the roles formerly played by Obama’s hands-on-everything manager, Rahm Emanuel.
But now, the famously panic-proof strategist appears to have answered the appeals of his party and finally set the president on a more partisan — and unPlouffian — course.
In Richmond, Obama tweaked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in his home district. Early last week, he proposed a tax on millionaires and accused House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) of having “walked away from a balanced package.” On Thursday, he stood on an aging bridge that connected the home states of Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and accused them both of blocking job creation. Over the weekend, he mocked GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry as “a governor whose state is on fire, denying climate change.”
Many Democrats are emboldened by the new aggression, but they remain wary that Obama, whose pique has ebbed and flowed in the past, is only temporarily diverging from Plouffe’s old path.
Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who attributed his own unlikely 2000 congressional victory in part to Plouffe, said, “I hope for his sake and all our sakes that he will move the way he has been moving.”
Plouffe’s defenders in the White House argue that he has been moving this way all along and that the pursuit of compromises has removed the paralyzing threat of default and put the president on firmer ground: Yes, the public’s discontent with Washington wounded the president, but it hurt Congress more. And now, Republicans will have to compromise on Democratic terms, as happened in this week’s avoidance of a government shutdown. Republicans, the thinking goes, will help the president to help themselves.