WASHINGTON — Since Franklin Roosevelt busted the curve, presidents have generally tried to avoid the 100-day measure of their effectiveness. But as President Obama's second term reaches this milestone, his legislative yield is particularly paltry.
Obama overplayed his hand on sequestration, with dire warnings that were roundly ignored. Then he poured his limited reserves of passion into a modest gun control measure that failed. Immigration reform only remains a possibility because of Obama's irrelevance to the process. Any sign of excessive presidential enthusiasm would cause even pro-reform conservatives to bolt. And a grand budget bargain involving serious entitlement and tax reform remains unlikely at best.
Obama has turned in desperation to the culinary arts — a series of White House dinners with legislators. Yet no amount of tiramisu is likely to break the logjam. More practically minded Democrats are hoping for decisive gains in the 2014 midterm elections. But a weak economy and middling presidential approval rates are set against them. And Obamacare seems more of an electoral drag as it moves closer to full implementation.
Some conservative Republicans — convinced that the only duty of an opposition party is to oppose — seem pleased with this turn of events. They would urge their party to finish the job by killing immigration reform and halting budget negotiations.
This approach lacks only one element: an actual strategy. Defeating Obama is no longer a sufficient Republican goal. What Mitt Romney couldn't manage is eventually accomplished by the 22nd Amendment. Instead, Republicans face a series of complicated political tasks.
First, they must manage to get back to George W. Bush's level of support among Latinos — somewhere in the low- to mid-40s — and eventually compete for a majority of that vote. The alternative is political irrelevance at the national level. Sen. Marco Rubio's immigration reform effort is not sufficient to get Republicans to their goal. But if Republicans actively sabotage this effort, it is discrediting.