A new bipartisanship? Don’t bet on it

Fans of Obama rhetoric went into ecstasies last night over the president’s victory speech.

Here was the old Obama back: strong, confident, with his preacher’s cadences – appealing for a better future and reprising the themes that first shot him to national prominence in 2004: the unity of the nation, the ability to overcome the differences between red and blue America.

The fact that Mitt Romney also made a gracious and conciliatory speech and that senior Republicans are talking of finding compromises have led to some hopeful talk of a new spirit of bipartisanship, allowing America to skirt the fiscal cliff – and tackle a few other big challenges besides.

I’m afraid I don’t buy it. I think the Republican Party will return to Washington in an embittered and angry mood. One former senior figure in the John McCain campaign of 2008 recently said to me that the Republicans had only nominated the relatively moderate Romney because they were told he was “electable”. Now that he has lost, many will feel that there is no point in further compromise. Instead, they will use the blocking power given to them by the constitution and their position in Congress.

As for President Obama I cannot see how, fortified by victory, he could passively agree to accept the Republican plan to balance the budget without any tax increases. So, beyond last night’s fine words, we may yet end up slithering over that fiscal cliff.

In the long term, it seems to me that one of the lessons of last night is that Tea Party obduracy is ultimately a losing proposition for the Republicans. But it is a winning ticket for many individual Congressman – and could still be the path to the party’s presidential nomination. And that is a big long-term dilemma for the Republicans.