McConnell: I Don’t Want Obama to Fail, I Just Want Him to Lose

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Lots of people are picking up on this memorable statement by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to National Journal:

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

Pretty clear, right? But there’s more to it. Later in the same interview (available online for subscribers only), McConnell goes on to say this:

It is possible the president’s advisors will tell him he has to do something to get right with the public on his levels of spending and [on] lowering the national debt., If he were to heed that advice he would, I imagine, find more support among our conference than he would among some in the Senate in his own party; I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.

Unless by fail you mean lose the 2012 presidential election, of course! But McConnell’s quote may reflect a degree of uncertainty among Republicans about how to proceed after their near-certain gains next Tuesday. The GOP base wants to give no quarter to the Democrats. But independents want to see an end to the “partisan bickering” in Washington. McConnell seems to be speaking to both audiences in the same interview, but the messages are contradictory.

It also doesn’t do McConnell much good when it comes to inside-Washington tactics. If you’re going to urge a president to cooperate on your key issues,  you might not also want to telegraph your determination to end his presidency above all else. Now Obama may not-unreasonably assume that every bargaining move by McConnell after November 2 is some attempt to lead him into a trap.