Former congressman and conservative stalwart Vin Weber confessed in a telephone conversation this afternoon that when it comes to President Obama’s veto threat “I don’t understand.” He says in speaking to Democratson the Hill it is apparent that they don’t know how the politics of a shutdown would work. However, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House are moving in that direction. Nevertheless, Weber thinks the stalemate will go to midnight. (“That’s the way these things work,” he muses).

Before the president’s game of chicken took center stage, the big news of the week was Rep.Paul Ryan’s budget. Weber says it is a historic document. “It’s the first time entitlements are seriously on the table,” he says. He is “cautiously optimistic” that the White House may at least be ready for a serious discussion. He says, “They said they strongly disagreed with it [the budget], but they didn’t embroider it with partisan demagoguery.” It’s the Senate Democrats who are the sticking point. Weber says Reid and the Democratic Senate caucus are the “pivot point.” It’s not clear, he says, whether the Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2012 understand the implications of the 2010 midterms. It will be up to them, Weber observes, to decide “if they want to be on the right side” on deficit, spending and taxes.

As a Minnesotan with a long-standing relationship with Tim Pawlenty, it is not surprising that Weber will be on the Pawlenty team. Last time he was with Mitt Romney, whom he says “I think the world of.” He says he’s friends with Newt Gingrich, but there are plenty of friends he wouldn’t support for president. Pawlenty, he argues, is a “new face” to most voters and, most important, “has the ability to unite the Republican coalition.”

As for the Tea Party and the media obsession with the differences between it and the rest of the GOP, he says, “I must tell you I find the whole discussion about the Tea Party annoying.” He makes the point that there is no Tea Party per se. “There are over a thousand groups,” he says. He points to a small gathering in Minnesota this weekend. “Are they the Tea Party? Is Dick Armey’s Freedom Works the Tea Party?” He stresses, “There is nothing that comes close to a unified organization.” In the House he notes that there are 10 to 15 new Republicans who have direct Tea Party ties. “And 60 to 70,” he says, “are just conservative Republicans.” What is going on, he explains, is “a grassroots conservative movement” centered on core economic issues.

As for Obama, Weber is blunt. He says, “Americans like him personally and they like his family.” Weber thinks Obama’s communication skills shouldn’t be underestimated, and he believes Americans “appreciate that he took over in a very difficult time.” But Obama has been a “divisive” figure, Weber contends. The speed with which opposition coalesced reflects the president’s polarizing approach. He says, “It is my view that a new president ought to construct a honeymoon for himself with broad support.” Obama didn’t do that and now faces a united center-right coalition.

Weber has an interesting take on foreign policy: “I think the biggest potential problem this administration has is their relative incoherence about America’s role in the world.” He cites Afghanistan (“What the hell was the July 2011 deadline?”) and the inconsistency on Egypt (“In one week we went from Hillary Clinton saying Mubarak is a friend of the Clintons to Robert Gibbs saying that Mubarak had to leave not soon, but yesterday.”) That, Weber says, is bad for America, its allies and our military.

We’re not yet in the thick of the 2012 presidential race. So for now Weber, like most of us, is still mystified as to what the president is up to. Does he really want to shut down the government? We’ll all have to wait and see.