Republicans demonize Obama, make historic political gains

BY DAVID LIGHTMAN
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU / TNS

ORLANDO – Republican governors have a surprising message for President Barack Obama: We’ll miss you.

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on Jan. 12, 2016. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS/TNS)
President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on Jan. 12, 2016.
(OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS/TNS)

Their “Demonize Obama” strategy has worked spectacularly well politically, said Republicans.

Obama has “presided over one of the most remarkable resurrections of the Republican Party,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin told the Republican Governors Association, meeting this week at Orlando’s Waldorf Astoria resort.

He and others proudly reeled off the numbers: In Obama’s first year in office in 2009, there were 22 Republican governors. Now there will be at least 33, the party’s strongest state House showing since 1922.

Largest in decades
Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress when Obama first won the White House.

Republicans this year have their biggest House of Representatives majority since 1931, and will return next year with almost as strong a majority.

And though 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for election this year were held by Republicans, the party emerged with a majority.

Now, they need to score another way – by governing.

Plans in place
Vice President-elect Mike Pence met privately with the governors Monday night and told them the Trump administration would have specific plans for Day One, Day 100 and Day 200.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who Wednesday was elected vice chair of the RGA, described the uncertainty: “They didn’t know what they were going to get with Donald Trump. They knew what they were going to get with Clinton, and something had to change.”

There are changes, the governors said, that could come within the first 100 days.

So many of the key issues have already been debated. That’s why, said Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, who served in Congress before becoming governor, Trump has to tackle “some of the issues we’ve been putting off for quite a while.”

Reverse Obama’s actions
The governors want Trump to undo the more controversial Obama executive actions, such as those that stopped deportation of some children of illegal immigrants. They also hope the new Republican-controlled Congress will repeal as much of Obamacare as possible and lower the corporate tax rate.

But the governors also know history. They know that in 1981, Ronald Reagan won approval of a massive tax cut by summer, but his poll numbers tumbled as the nation endured its worst recession at the time since the Great Depression. They saw Bill Clinton get his big deficit-reduction plan passed in 1993, then see his party lose control of Congress the next year.

They’re also aware it takes 60 Senate votes to pass anything controversial over a filibuster protest from the Democrats, and Republicans will be far short. That could make it difficult to reverse efforts on climate change or pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, among other things.

Divisive issues
Trump, the governors said, has to be careful not to invest too much political capital in an issue that would further divide the parties. They cite Obama’s 2009-10 successful, though partisan, fight for an overhaul of the health care system, an issue that poisoned already-tense relations between Democrats and Republicans.

“You were loading regulation onto a system rather than unleashing economic power,” said Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The nation was split over how to revamp the health care system when Congress debated Obama’s plans, and the divide remains.

Republicans have effectively exploited that concern – but now they’re the ones who have to come up with policies that don’t create a toxic political backlash.

They can’t blame everything on Obama after Jan. 20.

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