The Democrats have a unique response to their defenestration en masse at the hands of voters in 2014: Almost nothing.
That’s right. Outwardly, at least, the party’s remaining 18 governors are assuring the press that the two consecutive disastrous midterm elections their party experienced were flukes. Most seem to contend that their party’s bloodletting had everything to do with President Barack Obama’s job approval rating.
Speaking to Politico on Monday following their appearances at this weekend’s National Governors Association winter meeting, a variety of Democratic state-level executives insisted that the party would have had much better luck at the ballot box if the president’s job approval rating was where it is today.
“The president in the last election was way underwater. [His popularity] was in the 30s. Today he’s in the 50s,” Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin told Politico. “My guess is if you had the same names on the ballot just today that you had in November, we’d have a very different outcome in the governor’s races.”
It’s a minor point, but this is a particularly selective reading of the polling landscape. According to the Real Clear Politics average, Obama’s job approval rating is currently 4.5 points underwater at 45.4 percent approval to 49.9 percent disapproval. The president has reached 50 percent approval in precisely one poll that was not a daily tracker since the November elections (a Reason-Rupe survey of adults taken in late January/early February).
Shumlin is right, however, that Obama’s job approval ratings have rebounded slightly. That should be cold comfort for Democrats. According to the Democratic Party “autopsy” released this week, the president’s party has lost 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, and 11 governorships since the president took office in 2009. I would add that the party has also lost control of 32 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers (the party entered 2009 with control of 62 chambers and will end 2016 with control over just 30).
“It was less about governors. It was very much about the national wave against Democrats,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell added, essentially repeating up his Vermont colleague’s blame shifting.
“Democrats are convinced that they need to focus relentlessly on the middle class and making investments in infrastructure and education,” Politico reported. “Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, the only Democrat to oust a Republican incumbent last year, said he’s proof the Democratic message can work.”
This all sounds more like spin than an honest appraisal of the Democratic Party’s position. The president’s party is not looking at the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race from 2014, where former incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett hadn’t outpolled his Democratic opponent in any survey since March of 2013, as a model for the nation.
And the “autopsy” seems to take a more serious look at the party’s two midterm drubbings and issue more sober recommendations for the road ahead. The document recommends that Democrats “create a values based narrative” that will be crafted by a National Narrative Project. It also suggests that Democrats should nationalize state-level elections and create task forces that work with state parties to standardize the training of volunteers and staffers.
Democrats contend that they have been outspent and outmaneuvered by Republicans as a result of the gradual dismemberment of the McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign finance. “Republicans, in many cases, have been quick to respond to these changes and take advantage of this new moneyed and murky environment,” the report read.
Finally, the party will also focus on “expanding the right to vote,” which presumably entails promoting the narrative that contends minorities are disenfranchised by voter identification laws despite any evidence that reinforces this contention.
All this sounds nothing like what Democratic governors contend, that their party does not need to embrace any reforms beyond distancing themselves from an unpopular president. Now, when the party fails to live up to the goals it sets for itself in its “autopsy,” surely the media will perform a series of handwringing post-mortems questioning the future viability of the party… right?