A reader writes:

I wonder if the biggest benefit for Obama of the tax cut deal, assuming it gets passed more or less intact, won't end up being that it frees the Republican party to spend the next two years tearing itself apart.

Think about it: up until this point virtually the only thing that all Republican factions - libertarians, political operatives, business lobbyists, theocrats, neocons - have agreed on is extending the Bush tax cuts. Repealing health care reform may be a close second - but even there, the party's Congressional leadership has shown a remarkably consistent propensity to hedge on what they may actually do. They, like everyone else, have seen the polls saying that most specific elements of the ACA are strongly supported by the public. Deregulation of all kinds may be third, but there too the specifics are generally much less popular than the concept. And the Tea Party wing hates Wall Street. Do Republicans really want to spend 2011 repealing Dodd-Frank?

Beyond those issues, there looks to be nothing but minefields.

Defense spending ... Medicare spending ... Social Security ... abortion ... stem cells ... Afghanistan ... it's hard to think of an issue where a strong legislative push won't wind up with Republicans either tearing themselves apart, or leaving themselves open to effective Democratic counterattacks. A solid victory on taxes in the first months of 2011 might have given them some unifying juice to last the next 23 months - but now that's been taken away from them. Instead we may spend the next two years watching the surfacing and metastasis of thirty years of underlying divisions in the Republican coalition. All thanks to a shrewd bit of appeasement by Obama, which also bought him some progress on liberal priorities and a healthy stimulus as a bonus.

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