Which carries more political heft — Barack Obama’s re-election as president or the Republicans’ ability to keep control of the House?
The answer will unfold in coming weeks as Washington tries to back away from the end-of-the-year fiscal cliff, but it’s clear right now that Obama holds the upper hand.
There are two reasons for this. One is that he has a loud microphone as president, and he is smart enough to now be planning a public campaign to press his point of view.
The other is that House Republicans are divided. House Speaker John Boehner knows his party has to back down from its no-tax-hike line in the sand. So do other well-known conservatives like William Kristol, who hinted over the weekend it may be time to tax millionaires more.
But the farthest right wing of the party is trying to push the notion that Mitt Romney lost because he wasn’t stridently conservative enough.
Tea party advocates (since there is no such entity as the tea party, it’s impossible to quote a tea party “official”) say the time has come to move the party more in their direction. The old warhorse Richard Viguerie, who first started helping conservatives when Ronald Reagan was running for his first term, said, “the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party,” meaning, of course, a right-wing takeover, according to this New York Times piece.
I doubt many voters chose Democrats because the Republican alternatives weren’t conservative enough. Maybe some people stayed home on that account. In any event, that seems like a dangerous political gamble at this time, and especially given the Dec. 31 deadline to craft a budget deal.
Still, House Republicans do have the power to stand in the way of the president getting what he wants. That’s a powerful stick. They may not be able to fight public opinion on taxing the rich, but they may get Obama to raise the minimum income level at which a tax hike takes effect, and to agree to get rid of some popular tax deductions.
Whatever happens could set the tone for how Boehner and the president handle their balance of power for the next two years, and whether the tea party makes a comeback or fades into the shadows.