Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell at the 2012 RGA Annual Conference yesterday.
Earlier this week, Bill Kristol, a leading voice in Republican media, raised a few eyebrows when he urged his party to "take Obama's offer" and allow higher rates on income above $250,000. Kristol asked, "Really? The Republican Party is going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires?"
Oddly enough, Republican governors are also reading from a different script than their congressional brethren.
"The people have spoken, I think we're going to have to be [flexible] now," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, when asked if his party would now have to be open to taxes on the highest earners. "Elections do have consequences. The president campaigned on that."
McDonnell, the outgoing head of the Republican Governors Association, made clear that raising taxes isn't his first choice. But he said that the political reality of a Democratic president and Democratic Senate makes it unlikely that a grand bargain can be struck without some compromise on raising revenues.
Remember, Bob "Ultrasound" McDonnell isn't exactly a moderate voice in his party. On the contrary, he's an ambitious conservative and graduate of Pat Robertson's right-wing college. And even he concedes asking the wealthy to return to Clinton-era rates "absolutely has got to be discussed." Indeed, the Virginian added, "Clearly, overwhelmingly people in America believe that raising rates on people that are in the upper income is part of the mix ... and I think the reality is something like that is going to be part of a final deal."
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former RNC chairman and influential Republican voice, also said he opposes increasing the top rate, but as part of negotiations on a larger deal, he would also soften his opposition to letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest expire. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) also said he'd "be willing to make that accommodation" in exchange for Democratic concessions.
Others, including Iowa's Terry Branstad and New Jersey's Chris Christie, were more circumspect, but even they didn't rule out the possibility.
What I found striking is that none of the GOP governors Politico talked to urged congressional Republicans "to fight to political death on the issue." Some were more flexible than others, but the line from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell -- no tax increases on anyone at any time by any amount for any reason -- wasn't echoed by these state chief executives at all.
President Obama's talks with congressional leaders started just a few minutes ago. Whether the Republicans in the room realize it or not, their refusal to compromise on taxes has left them increasingly isolated -- from mainstream opinion and leading officials in their own party.