Who is Mitch McConnell's plan, unveiled yesterday, aimed at?
Here's how I read it: this is directed squarely at his own party. The Republicans.
McConnell is, we all agree, a very savvy politician. Here's his problem. Obama may be willing to strike a deal -- may be desperate to strike a deal – may even be willing to agree to a deal that is lopsided in favor of Republican priorities – but it's still going to be a deal. A bargain. A compromise. And what has to spook McConnell and John Boehner and all the Republican leaders...in fact, what has to spook every non-crazy Republican politician -- is that the very fact that whatever deal is cut will be a compromise with that Kenyan socialist usurper will make it a sellout.
And all of this is made worse by epistemic closure among conservatives. It may really be difficult to fathom, for those who get their information only from partisan media, that Republicans have any reason to make any concessions at all. They may be completely unaware that many of their policy preferences, including some on taxes, just aren’t all that popular. They also may mistakenly believe that Barack Obama is massively unpopular with the American people.
So what McConnell is doing, I think, is showing Republicans what losing would look like, and trying to persuade them losing is the alternate to cutting some sort of deal.
And he’s challenging Republicans: would you prefer to just plain lose? Because that's the real alternative to cutting a deal.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Republicans will believe McConnell and accept that those are the only choices. And you know what? It’s also very possible that a lot of Tea Partiers would prefer losing outright, with only the flimsiest of face savers, than to support a deal that Obama signs off on (and, for good measure, one that would require them to vote to raise the debt limit). But that’s the choice McConnell is trying to get them to make.