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Mon Dec 10, 2012, 09:09 AM

The Psychology of Defeat on the Right


In the summer of 2011, the conservative world was filled with giddy triumphalism. Through sheer determination, spurning all compromises, the GOP had turned the once-symbolic debt ceiling vote into a profitable hostage-taking opportunity. Even as Democrats controlled the White House and half of Congress, they had forced Democrats to accept more than a trillion dollars of domestic spending cuts, with no new revenue at all.

Republicans gloried in the weakness of Obama’s negotiating style. “He was, as he said, bluffing,” smirked Paul Ryan. “It may be blackmail. But it is progress,” gloated Charles Krauthammer. Ross Douthat, in a tone not of triumph but actual concern, persuasively explained that Obama’s unwillingness to hold a strong line on taxes made any compromise impossible:

Much of the Republican “intransigence” and “hostage-taking” and “terrorism” that they deplore is a direct consequence of the fact that Republicans assume that Democrats will always, always, cave on taxes. And so long as that assumption keeps getting vindicated by events, there’s no incentive for the G.O.P. to accede to sweeping compromises on deficit reduction. Why would you compromise with a party that won’t actually fight for the revenues required to pay for the programs it claims to want to protect?

Now Obama is taking this advice and actually forcing Republicans to negotiate rather than just roll him. The range of reactions on display is fascinating, and not necessarily what one might expect. You have doleful resignation from, of all people, Ann Coulter. You have spiteful resentment, like this from Kimberly Strassel (“[Obama] faces four years and 20 days of a presidency marked by his ownership of a faltering economy, a spiraling debt problem, automatic sequester cuts, no prospect of further spending or tax revenue, and a debt-ceiling time bomb. If that's this president's idea of "victory," maybe it's what he deserves.”)

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