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Will Americans Reject the Party of "Hell No?"

Most Americans are only beginning to sense just how unified the Republican minority has been in obstruction. It's dubious that this is a winning political strategy.

House Republican leader John Boehner's final rant against health care reform, featuring the refrain of "hell no," aptly summarized the temper and the substance of the general Republican position as the run up to the fall elections begins. (Rumors that the normally phlegmatic Boehner was incensed because a tax on tanning salons is the only tax in the health care bill that will kick in this year are unfounded. Democratic aides gleefully dismiss allegations that the tax was aimed personally at the perpetually tanned Boehner, a congressman from Ohio. )

Republicans pivoted immediately from "kill the bill" to "repeal the deal.' Reacting to defeat in the manner of a spoiled child taking away the ball after losing a game, Senator John McCain, once known for his independence, led a chorus of Republicans vowing "no cooperation" on any future issue. It will be hard to tell the difference. Most Americans are only beginning to sense just how unified the Republican minority has been in obstruction. Record filibusters in the Senate. Unprecedented holds on Obama appointees. Not one vote from Republicans for health care reform in the House or Senate. Not one Republican vote in the House for financial reform. Not one Republican vote in the Senate banking committee. Republicans even filibustered the recovery plan after their members had worked to weaken it. They bet early and often on Obama's failure - and it appears to be paying off.

Republicans have been salivating about their prospects in the fall elections. Newt Gingrich predicts they will take control of both Houses. Prognosticators expect big gains. If Republicans gain significant seats, what will be the mandate? What are they for? You can't tell from this Congress. They've chosen simply to stand in the way.

This isn't an accident. It is, as George W. Bush would say, "strategery." You may think elections should provide voters with a clear choice, each candidate detailing where he or she would take the country, but today's politics are defined by the 30 second attack ad, not Lincoln-Douglas debates. (And that's the tame part. The health care debate was punctuated by racial and homophobic slurs, a brick through the home office window of a Democratic legislator, death threats and more)

Republicans believe, as corporate lobbyist and conservative strategist, former Rep. Vin Weber, summarized, "this year will be a referendum on Democrats. We need an alternative agenda [for the presidential race] - but that's not the principle objective in off-year elections."
"Hell no" will do fine.

A Republican Party pro, former Rep. Tom Davis, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, and former head of the Republican Congressional Committee, recently spelled out the strategy for Republicans in Politico.

The Democrats' fate, he argues, depends on "events on the ground," primarily the economy. If the economy comes back, Dems will be rewarded; if not, they will be punished.

But, he warns, Republicans shouldn't "count their chickens." "Voters fired Republicans in 2006 and 2008 and are not eager to put them back in charge." Luckily, in a two party election, Republican candidates will get the protest vote. That's a vote to check Obama, for divided government, and "American voters like divided government." [This curious notion is conventional wisdom, but while Americans may end up with divided government, they don't like gridlock. They are looking for solutions to big time problems]

Davis urges Republicans to be careful: don't fall for "traps set by Democrats to make the elections a choice between competing visions." If it's a choice, Republicans will get hurt. A choice election would motivate the Democratic base.