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Next President Will Still Have To Work With Congress


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Throughout this program we've been hearing parts of President Obama's speech. The people watching that speech in Charlotte last night included Ramesh Ponnuru. He writes for National Review and for Bloomberg. And in a column this week he predicted that if President Obama should win reelection the next four years will look a lot like the past two.

Welcome back to the program, Mr. Ponnuru.


INSKEEP: What did you think of the speech?

PONNURU: You know, I thought it was an underwhelming speech. I thought Michelle Obama had done a fantastic job on Tuesday night. And I thought Joe Biden did a pretty good job. And of the four big speeches, counting Bill Clinton's as well, I would say that Obama's was the least impressive.


PONNURU: You know, I think part of it is there was just - there's a gap. There's a sort of a hole in the campaign strategy. And that is some explanation of why the next four years should be better than the last four. And there's really just an assertion of faith. And you saw that also in Clinton's speech, too, that better times are coming without any expectation that they were going to be doing anything different.

INSKEEP: Well, you wrote about this earlier in the week. The president was asked in an interview, as you note, if anything could be different in a second term or if it would just be more gridlock with Republicans. He said, well, he could tell Republicans you can stop focusing on defeating me, the election's over. And instead you could focus on the country. I'm paraphrasing the president here. You don't think that's going to happen, though.

PONNURU: You know, I don't. I think that there are deep seated differences between the parties on a lot of the issues. And he doesn't seem like he's in any mood to set aside his own views. And I don't think Republicans are going to be either.

President Obama also has said that if he wins reelection that'll be a sort of mandate from the people to go with his way of thinking about a lot of these issues. And I just made the point that if Republicans make gains in the Senate, they're not going to view things that way. They're going to think, well, we got elected, too.

INSKEEP: You even think that Republicans will become more conservative. They'll conclude that they lost the election because Mitt Romney was too moderate.

PONNURU: Yes. That is a powerful current in Republican thought. I mean, there are a lot of Republicans who believe that McCain lost in 2008 because he was too moderate and wasn't aggressive enough in fighting Obama. And the rap from Republicans on Romney, through the primaries, was that he's too moderate to energize conservatives.

And there are going to be a lot of Republicans who take that view if Romney loses, you know, whether or not it's true. I mean, I think it's a dubious analysis myself. I'm just trying to analyze what I think the actual reaction of Republicans would be.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another thing. you say that if President Obama turns to Republicans, as he suggests he might, and says, well, the election's over and now you can work with me and stop focusing on defeating me - you're saying the president will be read as telling Republicans that they were insincere, that they don't actually believe anything that they've been saying this year. And I understand that point.

But the Democrats have spent a lot of time this week suggesting Republicans are insincere. For example, Bill Clinton pointing out that Paul Ryan is for the same Medicare savings that he is against if they're attached to President Obama's health care law.

PONNURU: Well, you know, you can get deep into the weeds about the Medicare accounting question. As I understand it, the Ryan budget tried to get to the same number but in a different way. And then the Romney plan is to just get rid of those cuts altogether. And that's what governs this ticket, since, of course, Romney's at the top of it.

I think, though, that there is this sort of the accusation of its insincerity is sort of, so to speak, sincere, on the part of the Democrats. And I think it's just a misunderstanding, that, you know, they think, a lot of them, that the Republican opposition to everything Obama has done, or practically everything Obama has done, is purely political.

And my sense from talking to a lot of Republicans, is no. I mean, they genuinely disagree with Obama's agenda. And in some cases genuinely find it quite worrisome. And so that is not something that's going to change after the election, even if Obama wins.

INSKEEP: Mr. Ponnuru, always a pleasure to speak with you.

PONNURU: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Enjoy your writing, as well. Ramesh Ponnuru is senior editor at National Review and a columnist for Bloomberg View. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.