How Republicans Won the Tax Cut Message War

Congressional Republicans have succeeded where the president has failed.

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The lame duck Congress is about to become a dead duck and unfortunately, the tax cut deal is about to become a done deal with Senate passage yesterday and House passage imminent. So there’s not much point now in arguing the merits of the bill. But as we head into a new year, there’s plenty of time to discuss how congressional Republicans were able box the president in a corner and force him to accept a deal that he admitted he didn’t like.

Wearing my academic hat, I remind my students in college government courses of the axiom that “the power of the presidency is the power to persuade.” The real power of the president is his ability to command the attention of the national media in a way no other American can with the possible exception of Lady Gaga. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

As a Democratic political strategist and pollster, my specialty is message development. And as a message strategist, I can’t for the life of me figure out why the president has not been able to use the power and visibility of his office to frame the debate over economic and tax policy. House GOP Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have far less access to the media than President Obama but they have set the terms of public debate over national fiscal policy.

Why have congressional Republicans succeeded where the president has failed? The best answer I can come up with is Capitol Hill conservatives have been much more aggressive communicating a clear and consistent story to the American public.

The irony of this situation is that the same Obama team that has failed so badly at message development and discipline in the White House is the same team that kicked everyone’s butts in message during the 2008 presidential campaign. Change, change, change has become compromise, compromise, compromise. [See a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]

The disappointments of this this year and the advent of a new year should remind Team Obama of another political axiom. Dance with the one who brung you.

  • Read more about the deficit and national debt.
  • See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.
  • Check out this month's best political cartoons.