While this belief in the leadership fairy, to adapt a Paul Krugman-ism, fits the double-pox caucus's need to find bipartisan blame, it flies in the face of political reality. According to the Cook Political Report, 208 of the 234 Republicans in the House are in safe districts. Most GOP-ers, in other words, have an affirmative incentive not to play nice with Obama: They have more to fear from the right wing in primaries than from the bully pulpit and general election voters. And under ordinary circumstances the 26 Republicans in potentially competitive districts also have strong reasons to fall in line with their colleagues, including party discipline and the same threat of primaries.
"What I can't do is force Congress to do the right thing," Obama said in his press conference today. "The American people may have the capacity to do that." Indeed, rallying voter sentiment is just as legitimate a tool of leadership as cajoling, Lyndon Johnson-esque phone calls and congenial White House hospitality a la Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. And in 21st-century Washington it might be a more potent one—for the two dozen or so potentially persuadable Republican House members, conservative disciplinarian groups like the Club for Growth trump Obama, but incensed general election voters still have the ultimate say. The president doesn't need to bring a huge number of Republicans along with him, just persuade enough of them to get out of the way. See, for example, his victories surrounding the tax portion of the fiscal cliff, the Hurricane Sandy relief bill, and just this week the Violence Against Women Act. All passed the House despite a majority of Republicans opposing them.
They bowed to political reality, content to stand in impotent defiance. President Obama is betting they'll do so again, eventually. How long will it take? Probably long enough that the sequester resolution gets wrapped up in the debate over continuing funding for the government, which runs out on March 27. Get ready for the GOP's hard core to tune up another chorus of the shutdown fallacy.