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Rothenberg: Obama Wins First Round, With More Bouts to Come in 2013

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Though he is a great campaigner, Obama doesn’t entirely understand how to use all of the assets at his disposal as president, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Obama continues to be well-positioned for the next few rounds. His job approval remains good, the fiscal cliff deal may provide a short-term boost to the stock market, and the GOP’s brand is still terrible.

Just as important, the president has found the sweet spot in American politics when he talks about compromise. That’s probably why his remarks from the White House on Dec. 28 were so odd. Instead of sounding conciliatory, the president gloated the way Muhammad Ali would have, prancing around the ring and taunting his opponent. He even threatened congressional Republicans if they sought a rematch.

It was a silly thing to do, and it served as a reminder that though he is a great campaigner, Obama doesn’t entirely understand how to use all of the assets at his disposal as president.

So Democrats won the first round, on points. The problem is that politics is about results. The president will look good if the economy improves and Americans give him and his party credit for prosperity. But slow growth and weak employment numbers (or higher inflation and growing debt) will make him appear ineffectual and, even worse, unsuccessful.

Republicans want Round Two of the fight to be about spending and entitlements, and they will have their opportunity. After watching Congress and the president “raise taxes” on the wealthy and spend more on the unemployed, voters are likely to turn their attention to other matters, including the long-term economic health of the country. That’s the way voters are.

“Washington missed this magic moment to do something big to reduce the deficit, reform our tax code, and fix our entitlement programs,” said Democrat Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming in a joint statement after the fiscal cliff agreement was passed.

“The fiscal cliff was a significant missed opportunity to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path,” echoed Michael Peterson, president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Expect Round Two to be just as hard-fought as Round One. It may even make Round One look like a garden party.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (

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