But Romney's acquiescence contributed to the view that modern Republican leaders are well to the right of their predecessors, not to mention most American voters. In June, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Reagan would have a hard time being nominated by today's Republican activists.
Scores, if not hundreds, of House members focus more intensely on their home district's politics than on their national party's reputation. Many Republicans from staunchly conservative districts fear a primary election challenge from someone to their right.
Obama said this week he realizes that many House Republicans "come from districts that I lost. And so sometimes they may not see an incentive in cooperating with me, in part because they're more concerned about challenges from a tea party candidate, or challenges from the right."
Obama has his own problems with unbending liberals who want to protect Social Security, Medicare and other social programs from virtually any cuts. Obama's positions have varied, but he clearly signaled in his 2011 "grand bargain" talks with Boehner that he was willing to slow those programs' growth as part of a deficit-reduction, tax-increase deal.
It's still possible that Obama, Boehner and Congress can reach a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" before the Jan. 1 deadline. For now, however, the House Republicans' internal warfare makes it easier for opponents to paint them as extremists, unworthy of serious negotiations.
"The president and Congress have no obligation to radical Republicans who have no ground to stand on," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
It's doubtful that any congressional Republicans see themselves as radicals. Polls nonetheless show that key GOP policies are drifting from mainstream American sentiment. The Republican establishment has yet to do much about it.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Charles Babington covers Congress and politics for The Associated Press. Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.
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