“Kill the body, and the head will die.” — Joe Frazier
President Obama is preparing to fight a political war this fall on two fronts — the first against Republicans who want his job and the second against Republicans who want to make his job more difficult.
Right now, few people in Washington are as expert on damaged images as Obama.
He has seen his overall approval ratings — along with his numbers with constituencies key to his reelection — hit new lows this August.
He needs a villain and fast.
Enter Congress, the villain set to return to work next week. It clocks in with a 13 percent approval rating, having suffered more from the July brawl over the debt ceiling than even Obama.
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When GOP lawmakers return, the president and his team are ready to deliver a flurry of attacks, castigating Congress for inaction on jobs, being on the wrong side of taxes and eager to destroy social safety net programs. If Obama and his team have their way, Americans will come to see every Republican as a Tea Party extremist.
The president previewed this effort when he started throwing jabs while on the road in August.
At a stop in Michigan and repeatedly during his Midwest bus tour, Obama lashed out at Congress for imperiling the economic recovery and playing politics that caused the country’s credit rating to be reduced at a time when he was working for a grand compromise.
The president is still talking about compromise, but his tone and posture indicate he is more — or at least as — interested in combat.
While the August jabs didn’t improve Obama’s standing — his numbers have continued on a downward trajectory — they did help lower Congress’s further.
The next swing comes in the form of a jobs speech that will likely contain more dings on Congress than new policies that would dramatically lower the unemployment rate by next fall.
One White House official cautioned that Obama’s jobs speech will not be a “fire-breathing” partisan address. But the official said the president will be putting Congress on notice: Help him create jobs or get hammered as extremists more interested in playing politics.
Obama will continue with increased pressure on Congress through the fall, focusing on his immediate opponents and convinced that by doing so, Americans will come to see him as the centrist, jobs-focused politician in Washington.
“There’s no doubt that the president and Democrats are back on offense” one Democratic official said. “The Republicans can no longer claim the tax-cut mantle — they will now have to explain away why they are fighting to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest and tax breaks for large corporations but are opposed to continuing tax cuts for the middle class.”
And there’s a bonus to beating Congress to a pulp that officials think will pay off next year.
By forcing the GOP to take positions on such key economic issues as the payroll tax cut and tax cuts for the rich, Obama and his team are hoping to draw out and lock down the president’s 2012 challengers.
Example: If the debate turns on Republicans trying to gut Social Security, then expect the Democratic National Committee to connect the dots from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the new GOP presidential front-runner, who once wrote that Social Security was “a Ponzi scheme.”
While Obama was vacationing in August, the DNC and the state party chairmen were busy hammering Republicans on the payroll tax, leading to another flip from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and more division between one of the party’s presidential front-runners and its congressional leadership.
The more bruised and out-of-touch the House GOP seems, the more bruised and out-of-touch the party’s national leaders will seem, Democratic officials said.
“By embracing the Tea Party’s ideas, the Republican Party has rarely been more intransigent, and it is causing their brand to utterly collapse in the polls,” one official said. “That will have big consequences for both GOP presidential candidates and GOP members of Congress.”
Obama is reeling, punch-drunk and in desperate need of a counterpunch.
As the GOP field has found its footing, increasing the frequency and ferocity of its attacks on the president, Obama has seemed largely content to ignore them.
But Congress will not be spared.
The president is getting ready to use the House GOP as a punching bag.
And by working that body, he’s hoping to ultimately knock out, or at the very least bloody, the would-be head of the Republican Party as well.