When I read Eric Foner on Abraham Lincoln, I was struck by the extreme lengths to which Lincoln was willing to go to build his party. During the 1850s, he stood down from running for the Senate to maintain a fragile party unity. As President, he knew he had to keep the irritating, moralistic abolitionists from completely bolting -- and this necessity forced him to into situations where he met with Black leaders and gradually came to be able to imagine ending slavery.
But major U.S. politicians don't have to do that kind of party-building/coalition-enhancing work anymore. Any major politician employs his own political consultant or guru, think GWB's Karl Rove or BHO's David Plouffe. The consultant's job doesn't derive from the party; it is dependent on the individual he/she is selling.
Moreover, at root, it is not the party that pays for campaigns. Campaign contributions are gifts (sometimes bribes for access) to the candidate, personally. The Party may matter in down ballot campaigns, but it is marginalized in presidential, senate, gubernatorial and even high profile Congressional contests. In modern campaigning, elections are all about individuals.
Obviously an African-American who managed to become President of the United States knows this in his bones. The Democratic Party was certainly not much there for him in his early days in Hyde Park or even running for the Senate from Illinois -- until he proved he could use charisma to overcome his natural (Black) negatives. There's nothing in that experience that would be likely to make him think that protecting the Party brand mattered at all in fights with the Tea Party Congress.
The reporter Elizabeth Drew, in one of her typical exhaustive and well-sourced explications of DC process, -- titled "What were they thinking?" -- offers several tidbits that reinforce the picture of Obama's actions being determined solely by his personal re-election strategy. She asserts:
Considering how utterly implausible and downright wacky the Republicans running for President are, this just might work -- though then again, rising unemployment may doom Obama regardless of what he does. If so, the poor, the young, and the elderly -- everyone who needs government -- will pay the price for his image burnishing. Meanwhile, the premises of his re-election campaign will only make it harder for candidates who hope to draw a contrast to Republican ignorance and greed in the 2012 cycle.