After weeks of looking on as congressional leaders squabbled, President Obama left the sidelines and immersed himself in the budget talks, pulling out a deal in the final hours. By positioning himself as the grownup on the playground, he would have escaped most of the blame had the government shut down. And John Boehner knew it. The president looks like the referee, says Jenny Backus, a Democratic strategist and former administration official. He brings the warring kids into the Oval to negotiate a deal. As for Obamas detached negotiating style, Backus says: He stayed out of it long enough that he doesnt own the mess. Republicans, of course, see it differently. Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney adviser, says the impasse was very risky for the president because hes always faced questions about his leadership, and the shutdown could exacerbate that problem. After what Madden described as Obamas sluggish response to the BP oil spill and the rebellion in Libya, this is a president who is lacking in executive skills. Political experts say the shutdown showdown isnt likely to have much impact on the 2012 campaign, in part because most of the potential Republican candidates are Washington outsiders with no involvement in the Beltway brawl. They have had little to say about the confrontation as Boehner seized center stage. One exception is Rep. Michele Bachmann, who supported her partys demands but said she would give up her salary out of solidarity with military families if the governments doors are closed. The endgame to this bitter clash could have altered the narrative of the Obama presidency. It would be a mistake to assume that a shutdown would have played out precisely as it did in 1995 and 1996, when Bill Clinton got a boost by making Newt Gingrich look irresponsible and then shellacked the other Republican leader, Bob Dole, at the polls. There is a greater public appetite for budget cutting these days. Still, if Obama is seen as steering a middle course between unyielding partisans, that could buff his centrist credentials. He has the ability to be the big compromiser at the end, says strategist Joe Trippi, Howard Deans former campaign manager. The big losers, in his view, are the Tea Party folks. Theyre being marginalized by their own party, and Democrats as well, as kind of fringe, too far over the edge. But all these predictions were, by necessity, tenuous. Once the spotlight shifted from the political gamesmanship to the human impact of a shutdownsoldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan not getting checks, passport offices closed, national parks off limitseveryone knew an angry public would start pointing fingers. A lengthy shutdown would have carried more risk for everybody, including the president and the Democrats, Backus says. It looks like no ones governing. Daily Beast