White House: Divide and Conquer Strategy?

February 16, 2005

According to MSNBC’s First Read political briefing, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today:

that despite seemingly staunch opposition from Democrats on the Hill, “in fact there are some Democrats who may yet help Mr. Bush accomplish parts of his agenda… White House lobbyists estimate that as many as a third of the 44 Democratic senators will provide occasional assistance on issues such as energy, judicial nominations, tax-code overhaul and perhaps even Social Security. Since Republicans need 60 votes to overcome Democratic filibusters, and have just 55 of their own, winning converts isn’t optional.

While I guess this is nothing unexpected and certainly not sensational I find it intriguing.

We know that Democrats, collectively, have been predictably obstructionist (Charles Rangel has already pronounced President Bush’s Social Security plan “dead,” and the DNC, after all, did appoint Howard Dean as its new chairman, er, excuse me, “governor). But if the Bush administration employs the foresight to break its agenda down, bill by bill, and pressure those likely converts using their constituencies’ support for the particular measure or trades on the president’s popularity, this could be a strong antidote for the obstruction. Democrats will then be torn as to whether to follow the obstructionist collective or the will of their constituents.

The White House is apparently being quite methodical about this approach. According to the WSJ:

“We spend a lot of time trying to understand what makes these people tick,” says a senior White House official — and the administration’s efficiency in capitalizing on that will be critical to Mr. Bush’s second-term success.

I wish the White House could employ this strategy on judicial nominations, assuming Senate Republicans don’t invoke the misnamed “nuclear option.” Regardless, this is just another clear indication that President Bush intends to be a strong, relevant, non lame-duck second termer.