The People Who Can Make or Break Obama

President Obama managed to pass his stimulus bill. It was not exactly a difficult task, considering the overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But if the last few weeks are any guide, things may get considerably tougher for Obama from here on out. There are six people who are going to make life more difficult and complicated for the president. How they perform and how the president reacts will, to a large extent, determine the course of his presidency.

Tim Geithner: To say the treasury secretary has gotten off to a slow start would be a great understatement. In short, he "bombed" in his debut as the architect of the bank bailout plan. Not only did he not have a plan, but his image was that of a callow grad student and his performance uninspiring. The markets tanked and the critics carped. If the markets, other government officials, and elected politicians lose confidence in Treasury Secretary Geithner, the entire Obama financial recovery plan is in for difficult times. Any further missteps by Geithner or other senior advisers are only going to rekindle doubts about the president's own hiring skills.

Nancy Pelosi: Almost single-handedly Speaker Nancy Pelosi destroyed President Obama's image as a moderate conciliator. Her pork-a-thon spending bill dressed up as a stimulus and her decision to exclude Republicans entirely from the legislative process not only revived the Republican opposition, but needlessly sacrificed the Democrats' appeal to moderate swing voters. Now that her appetite has been whetted (and it is clear the president has no interest or ability in restraining her), there is no telling how far to the left she will leap. The danger is a series of hyper-partisan battles over "card check," health care, energy, and the like, in which the Republicans will be able to cast their opponents, including the president, as ideologically out of step.

Eric Cantor: The Republican whip was able to line up two successive "perfect" votes in opposition to the spending bill. Even the New York Times is touting him as a Newt Gingrich-like figure in opposition. If he is able, along with House Minority Leader Boehner (who demonstrated some theatrical flare himself) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to organize principled opposition to the Democrats' liberal agenda and provide a stream of alternative conservative ideas, he will have the Republicans well positioned for 2010. Moreover, the heat will be on the Blue Dog Democrats, whose willingness to sacrifice their own political viability for the sake of party loyalty will be severely tested.