White House sees GOP on ropes

The White House thinks it has the GOP on the ropes.

Senior administration officials and White House allies point to the unsteady political maneuvers taken by Republicans in recent days as proof that the president’s “no negotiation” strategy is succeeding.

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They say the GOP’s plunging poll numbers are proof that the fight over the shutdown and the debt ceiling is doing lasting damage and that it’s only a matter of time until Republicans relent on their demands.

“The strong public support for the president's position does put pressure on Republicans, and it isolates them from the majority of the American public,” said a senior administration official.

Officials in the West Wing have watched with satisfaction as Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a strategy in the fight over the shutdown and the debt ceiling. They say the GOP’s about-face on defunding ObamaCare shows the party is flailing.

“[It’s] hard to know what motivates them or brings them to the table,” the senior administration official said.

To be sure, the shutdown fight has been a drag on Obama as well, and some Democratic strategists have grumbled about the White House’s strategy, fearing it could make the president look unreasonable.

There have been tensions between Obama and Senate Democrats as well.

Senate Democrats want to increase the nation’s borrowing authority for more than a year, taking Congress through the mid-term election.

Obama seemed to undercut them Tuesday afternoon when he said he could support a short-term legislation to fund government and raise the debt limit, something House Republicans have since seized upon.

Republicans have blasted Obama for not negotiating with them and have railed at policies they say intentionally make the shutdown worse that it has to be.

These include barricades at the outdoor World War II Memorial in Washington and the administration’s interpretation of a recently passed law to not provide for the payment of death benefits to the families of fallen soldiers.

So far, however, polls suggest the White House is faring better than Republicans, something Democrats chalk up in part to their party’s unity — a contrast with the GOP.

“[Republicans] have not clearly articulated what they want,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.

“Where they went wrong was they did not have a unified strategy. They couldn't come to a conclusion and say, 'Are we doing this because of ObamaCare? Or are we doing this because of a deficit deal?' ”

GOP tensions flared anew Thursday as House and Senate Republicans crafted rival plans for ending the standoff.

Senate Republicans are worried that the shutdown will squander their chance at a majority in 2014 and want to reopen the government in legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

House Republicans, on the other hand, see the shutdown as leverage, and want to hold the line until Obama agrees to negotiate.

With its proposal Thursday for a short-term debt-ceiling hike, the House GOP also has backed off its demands, first made in the context of the 2011 budget fight, for attaching spending cuts to any increase to the nation’s borrowing limit.

That has led to additional confusion on the Senate side and worries the fight could have consequences even beyond 2014.

One Republican strategist said the "lack of strategy" by GOP leaders "may cost us not only in 2014, but 2016."

“It definitely tarnished the Republican brand a little, that's for sure,” the strategist said.

Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary at the Republican National Committee, disputed the notion that conservatives have pushed the GOP into a losing battle. She said the debt-ceiling focus “is what we need to do to make Obama come to the table.”

“He said he wouldn't negotiate without a clean debt-ceiling increase,” Kukowski said. “Now the ball is in his court.”

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it might have been a "distraction" for Republicans to fight the healthcare law at the same time as the shutdown. He said the GOP has been “taking in more water” than Democrats.

But Bonjean said both parties share in the blame, a sentiment echoed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Thursday.

One longtime GOP strategist said Republicans "went in without an exit strategy.

“Politics 101: Don't be the one presenting the ultimatum,” said the strategist. “You won't win.”