My advice to President Obama in the next several days: Make three phone calls, for starters -- as soon as you and your team finish celebrating, with justification, having run a great victory. These three calls should be made to conservative Republican senators who I know, from personal experience, care more about the best interests of the nation and who care more about solving problems than about winning ideological wars or passing someone else's litmus tests for purity.
They are Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah).
McCain was more than your gracious opponent in 2008. He is widely respected on both sides of the aisle. He has the wisdom of experience and the scar tissue (and earned courage) of being willing to stand up to the far-right base of the Republican Party. And he is a patriot and knows that our country is in peril if we remain in political gridlock between haters on the left and the right.
Graham also has a history of working with Democrats -- even those with whom he has strong ideological disagreements. Ask your Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. When she and Graham served on the Armed Services Committee, despite the high-profile role then-Rep. Graham had played earlier as a House floor manager for the Bill Clinton impeachment process, the two worked together, sponsoring and enacting a health care proposal to assist veterans that was a classic example of bipartisanship and effective legislating that has been in short supply in both parties since the end of the Clinton administration.
I know Graham is ready to join with other conservative Republican senators, such as Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), to support a "grand bargain," similar to Simpson-Bowles, for dealing with the $16 trillion national debt, which is an immoral burden we are now placing on our children and grandchildren, including raising revenues through closing tax loopholes sufficiently to reduce the debt (in addition to substantial tax cuts and entitlement reform). Graham and McCain are good friends and share a concern about avoiding the draconian hatchet approach of sequestration of defense and domestic funds, and will help you find a scalpel solution.
Hatch has impeccable conservative credentials, believing in small government, low taxes and private enterprise and opposing heavy federal regulation and interference with the job-creating private sector. But he has a history of solving problems by finding a consensus with Democrats. His close friend was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a strong liberal with whom he found common ground. He is the right Republican leader to convince conservatives that it is time to find compromises.
These three men have credibility with their fellow conservative Republican senators who also want to find consensus and solutions -- and are respected by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and many other thoughtful House conservatives who are open to the same constructive approach to ending the gridlock.
I believe, Mr. President, you should start the conversation not by telling these men what you want to do and asking them for their support, but rather, by asking them several questions, something like:
"What would it take to win your support? And that of other Republican conservative senators and House members -- to do the grand bargain to pay down our $16 trillion debt?"
"Will you join me in endorsing Simpson-Bowles?"
"In finding a centrist immigration reform solution?"
"To reform the tax code?"
"Tell me -- I want to find a compromise. How do we do this?"
"I need your help. Let's work together."
This is the Barack Obama of the 2008 campaign -- the keynote speaker in 2004 -- running for history, not for reelection.
If he does this, or something like this, there is a chance we can once again be a "purple nation" -- not a polarized nation of "red" and "blue" states. And I have little doubt that if John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch are asked to help the president of the United States, they will -- and they will inspire many others in the Senate and House Republican conferences to come in and help the president find a consensus -- perhaps to find a "third way," to use the Clintonian expression -- to solve problems.
This post originally appeared on The Hill.
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Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton's special counsel (1996-98) and as a member of President George W. Bush's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (2006-07). He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is a partner with former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in Purple Nation Solutions, a public affairs-strategic communications company. He is the author of the forthcoming book Crisis Tales - Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life, to be published by Simon & Schuster. He can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis.
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