The president's public support for the speaker can only help one of them
The president's compassion was palpable. He was worried about John Boehner, Republican of Ohio.
"His politics within his caucus are very difficult," Barack Obama said of the speaker of the House, oozing empathy.
"I appreciate Speaker Boehner's good faith efforts" aimed at as sizeable a deficit and debt compromise as possible, Obama said.
What Boehner probably doesn't appreciate is the continued presidential praise of his own fair-mindedness. It's not what most of his caucus wants to hear. And every ounce of perceived coziness between the speaker and the president elevates House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) among the party's conservatives.
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The dalliance over a blockbuster pact late last week between Obama and Boehner, which the president confirmed at his press conference on Monday morning, is wonderful politics for Obama, little harmed by the deal's eventual collapse. That left Republicans backing out, once again, from the big-ticket fiscal talks, while Obama gets to claim he's the suitor of a deal with no takers.
What the White House wants is for Obama to be paired off against not John Boehner's Republican Party, but Ron Paul's and Michele Bachmann's. Obama and Boehner, in that campaign narrative, can be the two sensible principals in the middle, the honest and sane brokers who present a reassuring front for an edgy electorate that wants to see a president who can work with both sides.