If you tell your opponent you're bluffing, he'll probably believe you.


We’re now coming to the close of the dustup over legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security. As you probably know, the Democrats and President Obama objected to additional language added to the bill which would work to undo all of that pesky amnesty Obama had worked so hard to executive order into existence.


Throughout the ordeal, the term “shutdown” has been used extensively. “We’re trying to avoid a shutdown,” they’d say. “It’s a showdown over a shutdown,” the news would report. It’s not surprising this would be the go-to term for talking heads. Shutdown has become a scary word ever since [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] spearheaded the Defund Obamacare effort in 2013, so what better way to pay homage to “if it bleeds it leads” than to make the debate as bloody as possible.

For their part, Republicans didn’t do much to dissuade use of this term to describe what was happening. In fact, for the most part, they encouraged its use while pointing out that any such shutdown would be the fault of Democrats who had repeatedly blocked the bill from going forward in the Senate.

You’d think that fear of DHS going unfunded might be enough to scare the Democrats into agreeing to the bill along with the riders. After all, the Republicans hold the majority so as the minority party, what ultimately can they do to stop a determined Mitch McConnell?

Unfortunately, as it turns out, Harry Reid and President Obama had insider information that helped them know precisely how to approach this drama. And the source of that insider information was beyond contestation: it was Mitch McConnell himself.


You see, “shutdown” had become such a scary word that one of the first things [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] did once it was clear that the Republicans had taken the Senate last November, was to call a press conference and in it, assure everyone that shutdowns were no longer on the table.

In fact, it was just one day after the election that Mitch McConnell was reported as saying: “Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt.”

To paraprhase: “I’ll take the fight all the way to this one point! And then seriously. I’m totally done.”

[mc_name name=’Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000437′ ], the new NRSC chairman, was also quite clear, saying on Morning Joe within those first days of post-election glee when we should’ve been telling President Obama to get ready for the fight of his life: “We’re not going to have any government shutdowns.”

Bold words.

The Senate leadership had made clear: shutdowns were not going to be the strategy. Not to undo executive amnesty, not to disassemble Obamacare, not to force a new holiday onto the calendar. If there’s one talking point you could rely on in November of 2014, it’s that this was a Republican party that promised to be super nice and never take the fight too far. Just far enough to lose.


Broadcasting the limits of your willingness to fight is bad enough, but it’s even worse when you turn around after broadcasting and try to win a fight using the very tactic you just admitted had no teeth.

It’s usually the left that has short memories, but one must wonder, did they think the press was going to cover them on this?

This is something of a repeating problem for our leadership in that they don’t seem to get how negotiating works.

Here’s a case study involving the other major player in this scenario who is equally bad at negotiating: John Boehner.

Back in 2010 when Republicans were the minority party, following the tea party wave that swept us into majority status, our congress went into negotiations with President Obama on upcoming automatic tax increases by saying “hell to the no.” They held firm all the way to the edge of oblivion. Here’s an interesting result of Obama and Democrats believing that Republicans were willing to go all the way in a fight: we won.

Now move to 2012. President Obama just had his victory, but Republicans maintained majority in the House. So how does Speaker Boehner deal with the impending “fiscal cliff” and the fact that Obama wants taxes to go up? Keep in mind, these are the same automatic increases, the same debt crisis, the same everything. The only difference is that now Republicans are a seated majority instead of just a pushy minority.


So of course, John Boehner signals to the president that it would be totally cool with him if taxes went up, saying within days of the election that Republicans are open to “new revenue” to avert disaster. And unless you’re painfully dishonest, we all know that new revenue means new taxes.

He quickly claimed that that’s not what he meant and that he wouldn’t be down with taxes going up. This is undercut but the fact that they did.

So here’s the lesson Republicans: when you’re negotiating with someone, if you start out by telling them how far you’re willing to go, they will start there. They’ll skip everything else, and move directly to that limit that you’ve helpfully pointed out for them.

Look, I’m not some negotiating genius that’s pulling off power deals in skyscrapers with billionaires. This isn’t heavy brain muscle stuff. It’s quite obvious. If you say “I’m not willing to pay more than $500 for that item,” guess what the price suddenly becomes?

So how is it that [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] gave in on an issue that we stood a very good chance of winning simply by existing and letting the Democrats step on their own feet?

Your mistake is believing he only just gave in the issue.

[mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] and [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] lost this debate in November of 2014 when Senate leadership told President Obama and [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] exactly how to win.


No amount of bluffing will trick someone that’s already been made aware of your weakness, especially when you’re the one that informed them.

In other words, if you tell your opponent you’re bluffing, he’ll probably believe you.

And let’s face it: when it comes to undoing President Obama’s executive amnesty, the Republican party leadership has always been bluffing.


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