Obama's atmosphere of distrust

Part of the art of the deal is giving your opponent a soft place to land. Seeing no soft places, Republicans are increasingly concluding that Obama doesn’t want a deal.

This is not the only possible interpretation of these events. Obama could be a ruthless negotiator, trying to squeeze every possible concession out of Republicans before agreeing to their last offer at the last minute. He could also be an unskilled negotiator who misjudges his opponents, overreaches wildly and backs unintentionally off the cliff. See Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics.”

But in any case, Obama has a higher tolerance for cliff-diving than Republican leaders, which gives the president a negotiating advantage. The Democratic left is perfectly comfortable with most consequences of the cliff — large defense spending cuts, tax rates back to Bill Clinton levels for everyone, Republicans blamed for defending the rich. Obama may be calculating that his leverage with the House would be even greater in January. As the weeks of pain go by, political pressure might grow so heavy on the GOP that Obama could essentially dictate terms — whatever mix of tax increases, tax cuts and spending he wishes.