As Tim F. posted earlier, Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.
The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce. Think of a situation where Lisa and Bob are getting a divorce, and Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children.
In this situation, capitulation is inevitable, the only question is what form it will take.
Similarly, once the Republicans in the Senate had stalled enough important legislation, they were in a position to use that leverage to place Democrats in a bind. The current bind is START vs tax cuts, but there will be others: debt extension, DADT, Supreme Court justices and so on. Because the Republicans are completely unwilling to do anything that doesn’t involve a loss for the Obama administration, no matter what the consequences, they will continue to manufacture binds like this. The binds will keep getting worse, because it’s taken a while for the stall in the Senate to clog the legislative pipeline enough to supply Republicans with a good set of must-have legislation, but they’ve got it now.
Again, capitulation is inevitable. It’s unthinkable that the US won’t ratify START, so the Bush tax cuts will be extended.
Obama has three tactics he can use, all of them weak: The first is to try to fracture the Republican caucus, and he’s flailing around with deficit appeasement (e.g., the federal wage freeze) and half-compromises (the millionaire tax) that are designed to pick off a few caucus members, like Collins or Snowe. The second is to use executive power to its limit, by rule-making (like stopping drilling in the Eastern Gulf until 2017). The third is institutional reform, specifically, ending the filibuster.
None of these tactics is especially effective, but when you’re working with someone who’s only happy if you lose, what else is there?