Senior WH official: Obama's GOP outreach is a big waste of time designed to impress the media

Look surprised.

“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”

Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”…

This was predictable. The White House was warned by Democratic allies in Congress and on K Street that, fair or not, voters ultimately punish presidents for malfeasance in Washington. Even more jarring than Obama’s lack of engagement was his public protestations that there was nothing he could do to strike a deal with the GOP. “It made him look weak,” said a Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. “It made him look – can I used this word? – impotent.”

So he painted himself into a corner, not unlike the way the White House did when it canceled public tours: If you’re going to pretend that you’re out of options, be prepared to have your critics look very closely to see if they can find others. In O’s case, one unexplored option was obvious, especially in light of his dwindling approval rating. He had to try harder to make nice with Republicans. So that’s what he’s doing — sort of. The Times has another revealing quote buried deep down in an article this morning but salvaged by the Blaze:

Aides say Mr. Obama will continue his outreach even if the phone calls and other overtures can “feel fake to him,” in the words of one associate.

But what if O really does want a grand bargain? Tom Coburn, who told the Times that Obama’s “really a neat guy” when you get to know him, also told “Meet the Press” two days ago that he thinks O’s sincere about all this. But that raises a question, via the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: If Obama’s strategy for his second term is to spend the next 18 months trying to weaken the GOP and then take back the House in 2014, why would he ever make a giant budget deal with them now?

As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, Obama intends “to articulate for the American electorate his own feelings — an exasperation with an opposition party that blocks even the most politically popular elements of his agenda.” Then, having secured control of Congress, the president can consolidate and build on his implementation of the progressive agenda he began in his first term and laid out in his second inaugural and most recent State of the Union Address.

A grand bargain with Republicans makes such a case impossible. The president won’t agree to any deal without additional “revenues” of some kind. If Republicans were to be a part of any such compromise, something that would overshadow his other potential policy accomplishments, it would be difficult for the president to suggest that they’re simply obstructionist ideologues.

It’s far more likely that the real target of President Obama’s “charm offensive” isn’t Republicans but the journalists who cover such matters. It’s a bank shot. By “reaching out” to Republicans, he is attempting to position himself as the “reasonable” party in Washington even if his big ask—additional revenues—is something Republicans already gave him as part of the fiscal cliff deal.

Good point, but let me play devil’s advocate. What if Obama’s already concluded that Democrats have next to no chance of retaking the House next year? A month ago, he was flying high. His job approval was still solid, if only because he was still in his post-reelection honeymoon period with voters. Schumer and Coburn were working on a deal on background checks, which might give gun control some momentum in Congress. Rubio was busy selling the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan to conservatives, which would end up chiefly benefiting the president’s party if it passed. OFA was gearing up to mobilize support for O’s agenda among the voters who reelected him. And the GOP had just caved on new revenues in the fiscal-cliff deal and might be willing to cave on a bit more. A month later, where is he? His job rating’s south of 50 percent. The Schumer/Coburn deal has fallen apart. Virtually every major issue in the nascent immigration deal is still unresolved save for legal status for illegals. OFA’s in the news lately for selling access to the president to rich liberals for gigantic sums. And he’s been routed thus far on the sequester, thanks to his own foolishness in overselling the economic damage it would cause and tin-eared scare tactics like releasing detained illegals.

O’s 2014 strategy is based, as all of his political strategies ultimately are, on hitting the trail and winning a popularity contest with the GOP that’ll lift House Democrats to victory on his coattails. But the thing is, he’s not winning — certainly not by the margin he’d need to flip 18 seats in a second-term midterm election. So maybe he’s looking at his “legacy” and grudgingly realizing that there’ll be no more Democratic Congresses to rubber-stamp his initiatives and that making some sort of deal with Republicans is his only chance to do something big before he leaves office. That’s part of the reason why I agree with Kaus in thinking that O’s not trying to sabotage the Gang of Eight immigration deal. If he kneecaps Rubio et al, he may not get another chance to pass it. And with each new failure lately, I think he realizes that more keenly. Might be better to reach a compromise on the budget now and then get back to demagoging Republicans on the trail over something else.