This is a pretty telling window into the House GOP's strategy for taking back the majority:
The PowerPoint slides presented to House Republicans in January 2009 seemed incongruously optimistic at a time when the very word “hope” belonged to the newly ascendant Democrats and their incoming president, Barack Obama.
“If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” one slide asked.
“The purpose of the minority,” came the answer, “is to become the majority.”
The presentation was the product of a strategy session held 11 days before Mr. Obama’s inauguration, when top Republican leaders in the House of Representatives began devising an early blueprint for what they would accomplish in Tuesday’s election: their comeback.
It's probably always been true that the fundamental role of the minority is to oppose the majority and pave the way to winning reelection. America's long history of ideologically amorphous parties, a relic of Southern Apartheid policies, created a tradition of cross-party cooperation. Those social norms persist, and both Washington elites and many Americans expect the two parties to work together as if they aren't engaged in zero-sum political conflict.
But the truth is that, when the minority party cooperates with the majority party president, it generally makes the president and his policies more popular. The difference is that the Republican Party of 2009-10 is probably the first opposition party to fully recognize the dynamic and make this the core of its legislative strategy from the very outset.
Here is how Mitch McConnell explained the dynamic in March:
“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”
McConnell's speech today makes this strategy even more explicit:
An emboldened Sen. Mitch McConnell on Thursday will declare that President Barack Obama must be defeated in 2012 because Republicans "can't plan" on the White House to listen to voters and cooperate on some of his party's top political priorities.
“Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office," the Senate Republican leader will tell the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to excerpts of his speech provided to POLITICO.
“But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things," the Kentucky Republican will say. "We can hope the president will start listening to the electorate after Tuesday’s election. But we can’t plan on it.”
In the media you're seeing a lot of familiar claims that the two parties need to work together. There is no incentive for the Republicans to do so. Even on issues where they can get a pure win, handing a win to Obama reduces their ability to gain the presidency in 2012. So why would they pursue an ancillary part of their agenda and reduce the chance to achieve the core elements of that agenda?
The trouble, of course, is that our political system isn't set up to handle this reality. It was not designed with parties in mind. That's another reason we have strong social norms dictating that elected officials ignore their political interests, at least for some period after elections. But that norm is dead. Meanwhile, we're left with a political system that doesn't work.