How Can Obama Hit the Ground Running on Nov. 3?

Assuming big GOP victories, the president has some choices to make

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With significant Republican pickups all but assured in Tuesday's congressional elections, analysts are asking how President Obama can best cope with the sudden shift in power. Democrats are forecast to lose their majority in House and possibly the Senate, and while this might not be an apocalyptic scenario for Obama, most people think he'll have to make some changes as a result. Here's a look at some of the advice and strategies on the table.

  • Find the Center  Time's Mark Halperin recommends that Obama start with the issues where Democrats and Republicans have the best chance of compromising: "education, trade, Afghanistan and deficit reduction." At the same time, he should "confront Republicans when they overreach" and "stand up to his own party when it is too liberal." Halperin admits that these are all strategies lifted from the Bill Clinton playbook, circa 1994--but they worked out pretty well for that president.

  • Go for the Hard Self-Sell  Writing in The New York Times, David Brooks says that "Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since." Obama must play up the contrasts between himself and the Republicans in a particular way, says Brooks. "That means every day reinforcing the following narrative: the Republicans are only half right. They want to cut things; I want to cut but also replace things. They want to slash government; I want to restructure it. They want destruction; I want renovation."

  • Worth It to Tack Right?  At The Wall Street Journal, Laura Meckler and Peter Wallsten write that Obama "could seek deals on issues including trade, taxes and spending, following the model of President Bill Clinton, who after losing Congress in 1994, compromised with the GOP to overhaul welfare. Striking deals could help Mr. Obama advance his agenda and run for reelection as a pragmatist." On the other hand, he could "follow the model of Harry Truman, who dug in and successfully portrayed an opposition Congress as obstructionist." The authors report that "Democrats are deeply split over which is the best course."

  • Release the Biden  Albert Hunt at Bloomberg wonders why the White House has "done such a poor job in explaining its policies. When Americans overwhelmingly believe that taxes have gone up, the economy is shrinking, that the Wall Street bank rescue won't be repaid and that the stimulus didn't create jobs--all demonstrably false--somebody hasn't been doing something right." Besides working on his communication skills, says Hunt, the president will need to "lean on Joseph Biden. Despite occasional foot-in-the-mouth problems, the vice president has an intimate knowledge of the way Washington works and he commands respect, even affection, from more than a few Republicans."

  • More Grandstanding, Please  At The Daily Beast, Tina Brown urges Obama to "stop being so high-minded about avoiding corny symbolic theatrics and start playing to win." Obama is a politician, says Brown, and there's nothing wrong with behaving like one: he "should go broad, not niche; megaphone, not dog whistle. Big gestures with a halo effect." For example, "the absurd myth... that he's really a Muslim would be easier to knock out if he strode from the White House every Sunday with a big old Gutenberg Bible and marched his family—with the first daughters in adorable Sunday best—to the nearest Episcopalian church... 'Worshipping in private,' as Obama does, comes off as just another form of annoying elitism."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.