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The GOP and the Zabka Principle

From NBC's Mark Murray
By now, any observer of American politics knows that the Republican Party strategy to oppose the Obama White House and congressional Democrats on virtually everything has paid dividends.

The latest example of this opposition was yesterday's Senate jobs bill, in which 29 Republicans (and one Democrat, Ben Nelson) unsuccessfully tried to block a measure that would give companies a payroll tax break on new hires that had been previously unemployed.

In the past year since embarking on its strategy of unified opposition, the GOP has pulled even with Dems on congressional generic ballot in the NBC/WSJ poll; it's fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ survey has gotten better (from 26%-47% in Feb. '09, to 32%-38% last month); and it's standing on the issues, versus the Democrats, has improved markedly.

And, so far, the GOP hasn't suffered as much backlash as Democrats were perhaps hoping. In last month's NBC/WSJ poll, 48% blamed congressional Republicans for not being able to find solutions to the nation's problems, 41% blamed Democrats in Congress, and 27% blamed President Obama.

But is that about to change? And is this the reason for the White House's televised health-care summit with Republicans on Thursday?

Enter the William Zabka Principle.

Zabka is the actor who played the villain in quite a few '80s movies -- "The Karate Kid," "Back to School," and "Just One of the Guys." 

And just what is the Zabka Principle? In those movies, Zabka played such an unlikable character that he forced audiences to root for the protagonist -- even if you didn't like him/her.

For example, how many young boys in the '80s didn't want to like Ralph Macchio's Daniel Larusso (especially since the girls in their classes thought Macchio was cute)? And there was plenty to admire about Zabka's Johnny: He was the better athlete; Zabka's dojo, Cobra Kai, was the superior dojo; and they certainly had the cooler uniforms.

But after Zabka and his crew jumped Macchio for the umpteenth time, and certainly after Zabka swept the leg, you had to side with Macchio -- no matter what.

And what does this have to do with American politics? As Republicans work to oppose the Democratic agenda -- and, just to be clear, that's what minority parties usually do -- they don't want to go TOO far where they become unlikable.

Opposition is one thing; becoming William Zabka is another. And that's true for the Democratic Party, too...