In the last campaign, many Democrats took offense when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his No. 1 priority was to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
Some, including Obama himself, accused McConnell of making that vow when Obama first came to office, suggesting the Republican never even gave the new Democratic president a chance. In fact, McConnell said it in October 2010, after the stimulus, after Obamacare, and just before midterm elections, in which Republicans scored big gains.
But in any event, Democrats charged McConnell with bad faith and obstructionism. How could a president deal with an opposition leader whose top priority was unseating the president?
Now there are reports that Barack Obama himself has a new priority: unseating John Boehner as speaker of the House in 2014.
"The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives," Rep. Steve Israel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Washington Post last week. "To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now."
Ending GOP control of the House is such a high priority for Obama that he reportedly called Israel just moments after delivering his re-election victory speech in Chicago last November. Before he did any celebrating, Obama wanted to fire up the campaign against Boehner. The president plans to campaign extensively against the House GOP in coming months, raise tons of money and convert his 2012 campaign into a 2014 win-the-House effort.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans who took a lot of flak for McConnell's remarks were shocked -- shocked -- that the president would do the same thing he accused McConnell of doing. "With millions of Americans still looking for work and incomes in a free fall, it's astonishing that the first thing Obama thought of after declaring victory on election night was how to take out John Boehner two years from now," says one Senate GOP aide. "The American people voted for divided government in November. They expect the president to stop campaigning for once and deal with it."
Republicans are also quick to point out a number of factors that make Obama's 2014 goal very difficult. For one, second-term presidents almost never make gains in Congress in their second midterm elections. Bill Clinton in 1998 was the only president to do it in the last 80 years, and the circumstances of Clinton's win -- it was in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal with impeachment on the way -- were so weird that they aren't likely to be replicated.
Also, by November 2014, Barack Obama will be a lame duck. The Democratic and Republican races to replace him in 2016 will be well under way by then, and the political world's attention will be on a new field of candidates. Obama will, of course, still have the constitutional powers of the presidency, but his political powers will be sharply diminished.
And one more thing. The 2014 elections will occur after Americans have experienced a year of Obamacare. Even though he signed national health care into law in March 2010, Obama put off its start for four years -- safely past his re-election campaign. The midterm elections will come amid a year of dislocations, price increases, lost coverage, higher taxes and mandates. If Obamacare has benefits that outweigh those problems, Obama and Democrats will not suffer. Otherwise, they'll have a really big problem.
Obama's 2014 project doesn't quite fit his stated desire to work across the aisle. And it seems a little hypocritical in light of how much he and other Democrats criticized McConnell. So on Monday, the White House pushed back.
"It goes without saying that the president wants those in his party to do well, but it is not a focus of his particularly at this point," spokesman Jay Carney said. "He is focused on trying to get a bipartisan consensus around some very important policy objectives." Among those objectives, Carney said, were deficit reduction, immigration reform, gun control and climate change legislation. "That's what he's focused on right now."
If that's the case, why did the president call Steve Israel -- who is not a key leader in the House beyond his role as the Democrats' re-election chief -- to get a jump on 2014? Perhaps Obama was just being sociable. But forgive Republicans if they see midterm politics behind everything coming out of the White House in the next couple of years.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.