President Obama’s case for re-election in the run-up to the DNC convention has included a fairly absurd claim that Republicans would be more willing to work with him after the election. The idea is that the Republican “fever” would break, and if they can no longer be motivated solely to deny Obama a second term, and if he never has to face voters again, Republicans will be more inclined to sit down and get things done for the public.

Not only do I not think this is true, I don’t even think the President believes it. To the extent there will be policy progress in an Obama second term, it will come from outside agitation, a turnaround scenario where Republicans have to do something they wouldn’t normally do (like if all the Bush tax cuts expire, and Republicans agree to a “tax cut” that would be a net increase from 2012-era policy, particularly on the rich), or the President moving significantly to his right and capturing GOP support at the expense of Democrats. It won’t happen because Republicans will extend an olive branch after the election.

Republicans have now responded to this claim, and while they couldn’t really ever say at this point that they would let bygones be bygones after the election, their insistence that they would still vote the way they’ve been voting for decades rings true.

“If Obama wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving right, not left,” observes Ramesh Ponnuru, a well-connected conservative writer, in a Bloomberg op-ed Monday. “It will become less likely to compromise with Obama, not more.”

Part of the reason, the argument goes, is that an Obama victory would likely coincide with GOP gains in the Senate — possibly even a GOP Senate takeover. That will leave Republicans just as empowered to block action on Obama’s key initiatives — balanced deficit reduction, immigration reform — as they are right now, and able to argue that the voting public gave them just as much of a mandate to govern as they did Obama.

The other, less specious reason is that the GOP has never accepted the Democratic Party’s entitlement to govern, even after enormous, unambiguous victories.

“Obama suggested that Republicans would feel pressure ‘to cooperate on a balanced package’ on the budget: that is, one with tax increases,” Ponnuru writes. “Republicans famously failed to react to their drubbing in 2008 — after which, let’s recall, Time magazine was running cover stories on their impending extinction — by softening their line on anything. Why would they react that way after an election that goes better for them?”

Mitch McConnell concurred with this last week. To modern conservatives, bipartisanship means a Democrat collaborating on a Republican policy proposal, and basically nothing else.

You can say that, under a second Obama term, the Affordable Care Act will finally get implemented, Wall Street reform will finally get implemented, and the policies passed in the first term will have a chance to flower, whereas under a Romney Administration they would likely all get rolled back. I don’t think you can say that Republicans will unilaterally surrender in the face of a second term mandate.

As I said, there are a few ways for the policy gridlock to change. A full takeover by Democrats or Republicans combined with a repeal of filibuster rules would be one. Outside agitation, perhaps on immigration (which after 2012 could be a political necessity for Republicans) or infrastructure (which has a bipartisan cast and the support of the Chamber of Commerce), could break a couple logjams. Some “turnaround” scenarios, where Democrats get leverage as the Bush tax cuts expire for example, could produce something different.

But for the most part, the path to breaking gridlock probably lines up with the President being “prepared to make a range of compromises.” Democrats and Republicans want to cut Medicare in different ways. You could see congruence there. The White House continues to brag about cutting spending in the midst of a mass unemployment crisis with inadequate demand. They kept spending cuts out of the platform discussion on the deficit, but that’s not an iron-clad lock.

To the extent there are new legislative policies in a second term, there’s substantial reason to believe that they would be carried on with large amounts of Republican votes.

David Dayen

David Dayen