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First Thoughts: Two very different House GOP reactions of Obama

Two VERY different House GOP reactions to Obama’s visit yesterday… The Tea Party perspective vs. the leadership ally’s perspective… Why the White House can’t give up here… Boehner to Obama: Put your entitlement cuts back on the table… GOP’s identity crisis on display at CPAC… What to watch for over the next two years: How quickly does the GOP resolve this identity crisis?... And breaking down the CPAC schedule, as well as the past straw-poll results.

*** Two very different House GOP reactions of Obama: To explain the difficulty -- but also the possibility -- of President Obama being able to eventually strike a deal with Republicans on a grand-bargain budget deal or any other legislative priorities, look no farther than these two different sets of reactions he received after this visit yesterday with House Republicans. The first set was from House GOP members who closely align themselves with the Tea Party. Their perspective: They think Obama is an impressive communicator, but they don’t believe he comes across as someone who will ACT boldly; they were disappointed to hear the president say that there is not a debt or spending problem; they don’t see the president as wanting to reform Medicare; and they believe he thinks government spending is the key to economic growth. What’s more, many of the Tea Party types believe the president simply is out to destroy the GOP in 2014 and beyond. The gist: How is it we’re supposed to trust Obama if he wants Pelosi to be speaker again? (It’s striking to us that the Republicans who seemed to be most concerned/fixated with the president playing politics during this meeting were Republicans from some of the safest GOP districts.)

Alex Wong / Getty Images

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaks as Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers look on during a news conference after a meeting between President Barack Obama and the House Republican Conference at the U.S. Capitol March 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill.

*** Tea Party perspective vs. leadership ally perspective: So that was how some Tea Party conservatives interpreted the president’s visit. Here’s another set of reactions -- from the legislating wing of the House GOP. Per one member from this wing of the party, the meeting was quite good; Obama received lots of tough questions (especially on the budget), but the president made his case and didn’t lose his cool as his motives were being constantly questioned; and he made the fair point that if Republicans want something in return from him, then they need to give something in return, too. One member was particularly impressed with Obama’s response to the 2014 politics questions when the president rather bluntly apparently said something like, “If I truly were interested in defeating you guys in 2014, then I’d want to use immigration as a wedge issue, not try to reach a deal; I’d want to demagogue Medicare and Social Security cuts, rather than agree to cut them.” Overall, for those Republicans who are looking for a way to work with president, they found the meeting beneficial. But they stress that this can’t be a one-time thing. There is a HUGE trust deficit, even among non-Tea Party Republicans.

*** Why the White House can’t give up: What should the White House’s takeaway be from these two DIFFERENT perspectives? Working with Republicans won’t be easy (just see the mistrust and suspicion from some of the Tea Party members above). But if the White House is going to anything done (a grand bargain, immigration reform, etc.), it can’t give up because folks in the second camp of House Republicans are out there. If Obama gives up too quickly, if his so-called “charm offensive” stops after this week, he could lose people who could potentially support him. And speaking of that charm offensive, the president today speaks with Senate Republicans (at 12:45 pm ET) and with House Democrats (at 2:15 pm). The meeting with Senate Republicans is perhaps his most important of the week. Why? Because there are a lot more people like the House Republicans in the second group sitting in the Senate GOP conference.

*** Boehner to Obama: Put your entitlement cuts back on the table: After Obama’s meeting with House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner pens a Washington Post op-ed. “If we’re going to find bipartisan solutions, the president will have to move beyond the same proposals and Democratic dogma,” Boehner writes. “For all of Washington’s focus on the president’s outreach to Republicans, it’s his engagement with members of his own party that will determine whether we succeed in dealing with the challenges facing our economy.” How should Obama engage with his members? Boehner’s answer: by putting some of his entitlement changes from 2011 back on the table. “During our debt discussions in 2011, he supported such reforms as raising the Medicare eligibility age and achieving savings in Medicaid. He has since taken these reforms off the table. Instead of continuing to backpedal, the president could put these ideas back in the mix — and make it so that this budget process isn’t just a political exercise that goes nowhere.” But why is it only Obama who should put something on the table? Why not Boehner, too? What is he willing to give up? The fact is this: While there are folks on both sides of the aisle who talk a good game on the idea of reforming Medicare and Social Security, nobody wants to OWN a plan.

*** GOP’s identity crisis on display at CPAC: As the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference begins today, Politico sums up the annual event pretty well: CPAC reflects the current state of the Republican Party just four months after its second-straight presidential defeat. And what is that current state? Well, it’s in the midst of an identity crisis. Many in the GOP want the party to be a bigger tent, but CPAC didn’t invite Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell (both with very high approval ratings) to speak because they have departed from conservative orthodoxy. The GOP wants to remain a party that’s viewed as strong on defense, but one of the CPAC stars will be Sen. Rand Paul (who conducted a nearly 13-hour filibuster over the Obama White House’s drone program), and a panel will discuss whether there are too many U.S. wars. You’ll have CPAC speakers who support comprehensive immigration reform (namely Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) and those who don’t (like Rick Santorum). And when it comes to gay rights and gay marriage, CPAC didn’t officially invite the Republican gay-rights group GOProud, but one of its members will be participating in a panel that is sort of affiliated with the three-day conservative conference.

*** What to watch: How quickly does the GOP resolve its identity crisis? But as one of us writes, it's only natural for a party outside the White House to experience an identity crisis. Indeed, after their second-straight presidential loss in 2004, Democrats encountered similar tensions. Should it strenuously oppose the Iraq war, or support it? Push for universal health care, or ignore it? Disagree with the Bush-era tax cuts, or call for them to expire? Yet by the time the Democratic race for president began, the top candidates -- Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson -- were unified on all the big issues. They opposed the Iraq war; they supported universal health care; they were against the Bush tax cuts. That's why the Democratic primary was fought over the margins (like whether there should be a mandate for health insurance). And for Republicans, that's the story to watch over the next couple of years: It's one thing for the party to experience an identity crisis in 2013 and 2014; it's another -- as Obama prepares to exit office -- to experience that in 2015 and 2016.

*** Today’s CPAC schedule: Here are today’s major speakers, per NBC’s Taylor Hiegel: Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli 9:00 am ET, former Rep. Allen West 9:15 am, Sen. Pat Toomey 9:30 am, Sen. Marco Rubio 1:15 pm, Sen. Rand Paul 1:30 pm, Texas Gov. Rick Perry 3:15 pm, and Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint 7:30 pm. Some of today’s notable panels: “Too many American wars? Should we fight anywhere and can we afford it?” 9:45 am ET, “Benghazi and its aftermath” 1:45 pm, “Should we shoot all the consultants now?” 3:00 pm, “Stop this: Threats, harassments, intimidation, slander, bulling from the Obama administration” 5:00 pm, “The legacy of Andrew Breitbart” 5:00 pm.

*** CPAC’s schedule for the rest of the week: Speaking on Friday: Donald Trump, Rep. Paul Ryan, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, former Sen. .Rick Santorum, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Speaking on Saturday: Rep. Steve King, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former VP nominee Sarah Palin, RNC Chair Reince Priebus, and Ted Cruz.

*** Past CPAC straw-poll results: Also on Saturday at 5:00 pm ET, CPAC will release the results of its presidential straw poll. And while we’re never ones to make TOO much of the straw poll, do note that the last three GOP presidential nominees -- George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney -- either finished first or second at some point in their bids. Indeed, Romney finished first or second from 2007 to 2012. Just something to chew on. Here are the past results, per NBC’s Hiegel.

2012:
1. Mitt Romney (38% of the vote)
2. Rick Santorum (31%)
3. Newt Gingrich (15%)
4. Ron Paul (12%)

2011:
1. Ron Raul (30%)
2. Mitt Romney (23%)
3. Gary Johnson (6%)
4. Chris Christie (6%)
5. Newt Gingrich (5%)
6. Tim Pawlenty (4%)
7. Michele Bachmann (4%)
8. Mitch Daniels (4%)
9. Sarah Palin (3%)
10. Herman Cain (2%)

2010:
1. Ron Paul (31%)
2. Mitt Romney (22%)
3. Sarah Palin (7%)
4. Tim Pawlenty (6%)
5. Mike Pence (5%)
6. Newt Gingrich (4%)
7. Mike Huckabee (4%)
8. Mitch Daniels (2%)
9. John Thune (2%)
10. Rick Santorum (2%)

2009:
1. Mitt Romney (20%)
2. Bobby Jindal (14%)
3. Ron Paul (13%)
4. Sarah Palin (13%)
5. Newt Gingrich (10%)
6. Mike Huckabee (7%)
7. Mark Sanford (4%)
8. Rudy Giuliani (3%)
9. Tim Pawlenty (2%)
10. Charlie Crist (1%)

2008:
1. Mitt Romney (35%)
2. John McCain (34%)
3. Mike Huckabee (12%)
4. Ron Paul (12%)

2007:
1.  Mitt Romney (21%)
2.  Rudy Giuliani (17%)
3.  Sen. Sam Brownback (15%)
4.  Newt Gingrich (14%)
5.  Sen. John McCain (12%)

2006:
1. George Allen (22%)
2. John McCain (20%)
3. Rudy Giuliani (12%)
4. Condoleezza Rice (10%)

2005: Rudy Giuliani 

2000: George W. Bush

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