Presidential Schmoozing Isn’t Just For Republicans

Sen. Joe Manchin lamented on Sunday that President Obama doesn’t schmooze enough.“It’s just hard to say no to a friend,” he told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union. Steve Benen is unimpressed:

Obama has gone further any modern president in bringing members of the opposing party into his cabinet….incorporating ideas from the opposing party’s agenda into his own policy plans….Obama invited several GOP lawmakers to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie “Lincoln.”….How many of the invited Republicans accepted the invitation? None….Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.

In general, I’m on Benen’s side here. I think he probably overstates just how hard Obama has tried to be sociable, but in the end, I don’t think it mattered. It’s been a matter of settled public record for a long time that Republicans were dedicated to forming a united front of obstruction from the day Obama took office, and nothing he did was going to change that.

But in fairness, Manchin says in this interview that he’s talking mostly about his fellow Democrats here. And this is an area where Obama’s style probably has hurt him a bit. It hasn’t hurt him a lot—ideology, self-interest, and political survival will always count for a lot more—but I imagine that Democrats in Congress would be willing to back Obama more strongly if they felt a personal connection with him. Most of them don’t, and this has produced a more fractured party with less enthusiasm for backing difficult policies. Obamacare is probably a good example. Right now, when it’s having so many birthing pains, is precisely when you want Democrats coming to its defense most passionately. That’s a tough sell for obvious reasons, but I imagine that more of them would be stepping up if they felt that they owed it to their party leader. Ditto for other difficult policies, like the U-turn on Syria, the negotiations with Iran, and some of the pseudo-scandals of the past year. Strong relationships wouldn’t have turned night into day on these issues, but I’ll bet it would have helped.