Having witnessed in person the president’s performance at the Republican retreat in Baltimore in January and watching today’s summit on TV, it’s clear that the venues for the conversations made a noticeable difference.
President Obama talked down to the Republicans in Baltimore because he was on a stage behind a podium flanked by American flags. And while Republicans offered focused ideas and probing questions in the exchange with the president in Baltimore, the optics put them at a disadvantage.
Today, with everybody seated around a table talking with each other as equals, it was clear that Republicans held their own on health care, an issue that they heretofore had been less than comfortable with. Even though they received less than half the amount of airtime today, they used the time to make effective and coordinated arguments on behalf of a step-by-step approach to reform.
The summit was not the game-changer the White House hoped it would be. The White House hoped the president would be able to spin this as a clear victory. It was not. Republicans showed that they have ideas and that they have a more practical approach to reform that doesn’t scare the American people with its scale and cost.
The question now will be whether there is the political will to go forward with a smaller bill that very likely could pass this Congress, or whether the White House is going to continue to insist on passing a wildly unpopular, comprehensive overhaul to one-sixth of our economy that three out of four Americans reject.
Published in The Washington Examiner, February 25, 2010.