Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose. Six-year midterms usually mean lost seats for the White House, and Democrats should know this better than anyone. They fattened themselves on George W. Bush’s unpopularity in 2006, winning big in an election that forced Bush to make significant changes in direction in both domestic and foreign policy. Now they have their own unpopular albatross in Barack Obama, and the winds of fortune are blowing right back in their faces — or so says the Washington Post:
The decision by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) not to seek election in November in the wake of a plagiarism scandal is the latest piece of good news for Republicans as they strive to take control of the Senate in less than three months.
Walsh’s departure from the race came in the same week that two Republican senators — Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee — defeated tea party challengers in primary fights, ensuring that every GOP senator seeking reelection would be the party’s nominee.
These past seven days typified the fates of the two parties this election cycle. Democrats have been hit by retirements in tough states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, Iowa — and Republicans haven’t nominated the sort of extreme candidates who lack broader appeal in a general election.
Those realities — along with a national playing field in which a handful of incumbent Democrats are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular — have made a GOP takeover a better-than-50/50 proposition.
Walsh faced an uphill battle anyway, which underscores rather than negates the point. The Obama brand has hit a serious decline, and it won’t be the White House that pays the price for it. While Noah dismissed the national implications of the Hawaiian gubernatorial primary, I’m not quite convinced. The White House thought that Obama’s endorsement would have enough impact to bother to issue an endorsement to Neil Abercrombie; otherwise, they would have played it safe and sat out the primary. Very clearly, it did not have the impact that Obama’s team thought it would, and now it looks as though Obama is toxic in this cycle. It also calls into question why Obama bothered to weigh in on a primary fight in the first place, but there’s plenty of evidence of incompetence in his operations without including this particular data point.
The message has been received loudly and clearly by other Democrats, though. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports that Democratic candidates for Congress have begun to adopt a new strategy — run like a Republican:
It’s one thing for Democrats running in red parts of the country to sound like Republicans on the campaign trail. It’s another when Democrats running in purple or even blue territory try to do so.
Yet that’s what’s happening in race after race this season.
Faced with a treacherous political environment, many Democrats are trotting out campaign ads that call for balanced budgets, tax cuts and other more traditionally GOP positions. Some of them are running in congressional districts that just two years ago broke sharply for President Barack Obama.
The Republican-flavored ads provide an early glimpse of how Democrats will wage their 2014 campaign. Democrats, hampered by Obama’s rising unpopularity and the tendency for conservatives to turn out at higher levels than liberals in midterm years, face the reality that swing congressional districts favorable to them in 2012 will be far less so in 2014.
Again, plus ça change, etc etc etc. Republicans tried this same strategy in 2006 and in 2008, attempting to end-run the deep unpopularity of their incumbent President by co-opting the opposition message. The GOP learned (well, mostly) that a Fugazi strategy doesn’t really work in elections. When faced with a choice between real Democrats and fake Democrats, voters will choose the authentic version almost every time — and did in both cycles.
Expect the same result here. Authenticity counts in politics, or at least the appearance of authenticity. In midterms, though, the problem is even more basic. Voters have only one recourse to deal with an unpopular and failing President in a midterm election, and that’s to strip him of his allies on Capitol Hill — especially when his agenda is part of the problem. Democrats can pose as oppositionists, but it’s not going to fool enough voters to matter. They would be better off — slightly, anyway — to campaign in support of Obama and adopt his agenda and talking points. At the very least, that would not insult the intelligence of voters, who know very well that a vote for a Democrat is an endorsement for Obama and an enabling of his agenda, no matter how many pictures of coal miners Alison Grimes and her colleagues put on their campaign websites.
The Fugazi strategy is a loser, as Republicans discovered to their chagrin twice. Democrats probably know it too, so it may well be a measure of their desperation that they’re falling back on it now anyway.
Via Instapundit, there’s a message in this for Republicans, too: