Without getting into the specifics of the "Grand Bargain" debate, it's worthwhile to address some of the profound misconceptions about the nature of negotiation that seem to be widespread, that often undermine people's ability to make rational assessments of how well or how poorly they're being represented in Washington. Generally speaking, most people don't have even the most basic understanding of what a political negotiation is at its root: It is not an attempt to reach mutually agreeable ends, nor an attempt to trick someone into granting you more than they're willing.
If common ground was there to be had, not much negotiating would be necessary anyway - it would be a formality. And if the other side were foolish enough to be tricked, they would never have become powerful enough that you would have to deal with them in the first place. Political negotiation, like free market transactions, is simply the abstraction of war, with the greater power setting the agenda and receiving the lion's share of benefit while the weaker power merely tries to limit how much they lose in the transaction.
No amount of "strategery" is going to make the stronger power concede more than they absolutely have to, and no amount of passion for their cause is going to give the weaker power the ability to gain the upper hand in a transaction. In other words, negotiations merely reflect power status, they do not change it. If you want a different result from negotiations, you have to change the power dynamic between the participants - not demand that they ignore reality.
The point I am making with respect to political negotiation is similar to what I discussed in my diary about economic bargaining parity, The Myth of the "Consensual" Marketplace. The idea that market transactions are "free" is an illusion based on ignorance of how markets function under the vast majority of circumstances, and no amount of cunning bargaining tactics can make a poor man into a millionaire unless they use them to prey on other poor people: In bargaining with people who have a greater advantage than you, you either lose more than you gain or you abandon what you're seeking altogether and probably lose even more from the lack of it. The best you can do in such a transaction is minimize what you lose while maximizing what you gain, in the full knowledge that loss will very likely exceed gain.
While the other side of the bargain wields more power, there is virtually nothing you can do about the fact that you're going to lose: The only way to get ahead is to change the power dynamic before you even start negotiating - to come into it as the dominant party, and not in some delusional, "Jedi mind trick" way of just acting powerful, but in the real sense of having the advantage yourself. You can't trick people who are used to being in control into thinking you are if you're not: They will challenge your power by default, and any pretense will simply fall apart. Only the true ability to flex muscle in a way that demonstrates your superiority forces them into the subordinate negotiating role.
I would suggest a very simple standard for people who have suggestions for how the President or Democrats in general should negotiate with Republicans: Try it. The next time you buy a car, try the strategies you propose out on the sales-sharks. Go into it with a firm idea of what kind of car you want, and a price and payments you absolutely will not go above that would put you in the advantage. See if you end up with the car you want, and hold firm to your pricing and payment standards.
The fact is, in the vast majority of cases, you won't: You will either end up walking out of every single dealership you visit empty-handed, or buy less of a car than the one you wanted in order to meet your price and payment standards, or else break your standards in order to get the car you wanted. And the reason is simple: You don't have the power in that transaction under those circumstances. The dealers have the bargaining advantage, and no amount of effrontery or slickness is going to change that dynamic. If it did, then used car salesmen would be the richest people on Earth, but they're not - they're at best middle-class, and they make most of their money preying on other members of the middle-class, not negotiating with their employers.
So, when you see a Democrat negotiating in a way that you don't like, there are two possibilities for what is the driving force behind their actions:
1. That Democrat is a corrupt, nihilistic Betrayer with no morals and/or an idiot who doesn't know what they're doing. Or...
2. The power dynamic is badly out of whack against the agenda you support, and they're doing their best to limit the damage.
Since being Republican is a lot more lucrative and secure for selfish morons, our reliance on the first interpretation should be carefully limited, infrequent, and depend on overwhelming and in-depth analysis of behavior rather than just gauging how dissatisfied we are with the outcome of a process. Meanwhile, since it is painfully obvious that the power dynamic is indeed badly out of whack against us - and as I said earlier, negotiations merely reflect power rather than changing it - the latter interpretation must be treated as the Occam's Razor explanation in the vast majority of cases, and inform how we go about producing better results.
Just as no amount of cunning or effrontery will give you the magical power to buy a well-functioning car from a dealership below cost, no amount of it from a President or Governor is going to force the 200-some ultra-wealthy oligarchs who own the Republican Party to let up their stranglehold on government or moderate their demands. They can wait patiently forever without further progress on their goals without losing anything, while the rest of us need a funded government now; we need judges and regulators to be approved by the Senate, now; we are presently at a disadvantage regardless of what our negotiating position looks like on paper. And the only way negotiations are going to produce better outcomes is to change the balance of power, not demand that our leaders play the same weak hand in a louder voice.
If you don't want Social Security being on the table, take back the table. Power is not how loudly you speak, or how passionately you rail. It is will multiplied by resources. Together, our resources still exceed those of the oligarchy, and our will as human beings struggling for basic survival and dignity should far exceed their petty greed. But that mere potential has to be manifested in fact for it to have any effect on negotiations. Until we start regularly and effectively punishing Republicans for what they do rather than writing off their corruption and criminality as an ordinary fact of nature, they will hold the advantage. And as long as we waste our outrage on honorable leaders for playing the hands they're dealt rather than trying to shield us from reality like children, we will forever be distracted and impotent.
7:50 PM PT: I guess some people really don't want to hear this, but it's true and important. There's no shortcut to change.