President Barack Obama hoped the midterm elections would help break the capital’s gridlock. Instead, they became a referendum on his presidency.
Voters went to the polls Tuesday deeply frustrated with the political system and handed Republicans a decisive victory. Mr. Obama was a central figure in key races where Republicans criticized his leadership.
Most Democratic Senate candidates refused to appear with Mr. Obama on the campaign trail, trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president. Democrats tried to keep the focus on policies of particular importance in their states…
In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week, 67% of registered voters said they want to see Mr. Obama change the direction he is leading the country “a great deal” or “quite a bit,” while just 42% approved of the job he is doing.
The drubbing is sure to spark a round of soul-searching, as Democrats ponder whether President Obama is to blame — or whether something deeper has gone wrong in the party that could threaten its chances of retaining the White House in 2016.
“This is where the administration has to take a real honest look at its decisionmaking and its management. Between the Veterans Administration, the health care website. … It was a lot of things for the last two years that kept feeding this concern that Democrats aren’t able to manage this government,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to speak freely.
Finger-pointing had begun between Senate Democrats and the White House even before every race has been decided. The blame game is sure to get worse in the coming days.
“The president’s approval rating is barely 40 percent,” David Krone, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Washington Post reporters. “What else more is there to say? … He wasn’t going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn’t good.”
Could Obama and the Democrats have avoided the voters’ wrath? I think there was an opportunity to do so in the fall of 2013 when many Americans blamed the Republicans for the shutdown of the government. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from October 7-9, 2013, Obama’s approval rate was 47 percent and his disapproval rate 48 percent, and registered voters said by 47 to 39 percent that they would prefer that Democrats control the next Congress. By the next poll on December 13, Obama’s approval was at 43 percent and his disapproval at 54 percent and voters now preferred a Republican congress by 44 to 42 percent. A Washington Post poll registered the same trends. The bottom fell out of Obama’s approval and of Democrat prospects for November 2014 sometime in mid-October 2013. What happened during October was the administration’s failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act. That was Obama’s Katrina, and it turned out to be the Democrats’ as well. Of course, the administration subsequently repaired the program, but the political damage was lasting. It occurred at just that time when the issues of the coming election were being defined. Obama’s and the Democrats’ popularity never recovered.
Obama didn’t help matters in the year to come. While he has brought his substantial political skills to bear on his presidential campaigns, he has remained detached from the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014, insisting last month that his policies would speak for themselves. But by withdrawing from the struggle—and not attempting to frame the 2010 or 2014 elections—Obama allowed voters to blame him and the Democrats for whatever continues to ail America.
We have been told that the GOP ran on nothing and that the party has no mandate. In truth, the congressional GOP has an identifiable record: unremitting opposition to Obama. Apparently, the electorate wanted more of that.
The Republicans got nothing but rewards for obstructionism. No Contract with America was needed. The 2014 electorate was willing to hire the Republicans like day laborers: Pull up, hop in. No, I don’t need your C.V. You castrate pigs? Great, you got a job.
You can blame the map, blame the 2010 Tea Party wave of gerrymandering, or blame old white people. Obama was supposed to be a liberal Reagan, reversing 30 years of moderate to conservative governance. But Obama’s historic elections had no effect on the midterm electorate which now has a 20-year bias toward the GOP. The rollout of ObamaCare with politically convenient delays and triggers over a period of years seems to have spread the damage from the expected fallout rather than contained it.
There are many things that have gone wrong politically for President Obama since 2009, but a not-insignificant part of the problem is the failure of imagination that the foregoing represents. This White House has long believed — and been encouraged in that belief by center-left pundits — that its policy agenda is actually radically moderate, even Rockefeller Republican, rather than remotely left-wing. (We took some early-1990s Republican ideas for the design of Obamacare! Our gun control agenda polls well! Etc.) Meanwhile, many of the administration’s critics in the commentariat have long taken as a given that the only way for Obama to move closer to the political middle is to be more aggressively Bloombergist — by, say, coming out explicitly in favor of Bowles-Simpson, or some other grand bargain on the deficit; by pushing harder (in some unspecified way) on immigration reform; and so on.
This combination — an administration confident that it’s already being as bipartisan as possible; a chorus of critics for whom bipartisanship just means grand bargains on taxes and comprehensive cheap-labor bills — has become a kind of straitjacket for a president who once, long ago and far away, seemed like he actually had a little more political imagination than that.
That “coalition of the ascendant” that the Democrats thought they had assembled only seems to exist in years that are divisible by four. The rising number of nonwhite voters, decreased churchgoing and liberalism among college-educated professionals may over time make the country more Democratic. But for now, the coalition is intermittent and unstable…
Obama’s popular majority, much of it concentrated in urban areas, gave him an electoral majority. But it was not distributed in a way that made for a majority in the House or, as we have just seen, a stable one in the Senate. And it also appears to have been dependent — even to an extent in blue states — on voters who do not show up in midterm elections. Accusing Republicans of hostility to contraception, for example, may work as a way of motivating marginal voters in presidential years, when they just need a little nudge to go to the polls. Not so in the midterms.
In an increasingly black-and-white political universe, Obama is now all gray, all the time. As a result, the man elected to be a post-partisan figure has become one, stuck in the unpopulated center, out of place in the binary equation of R’s and D’s. Those qualities were supposed to make him the perfect antidote to George W. Bush—but instead voters seem to have gotten what they wanted and then not wanted what they got.
What they got was a realist, a man who, like him or not, seems more uncomfortable than ever pandering to voters or telling them what they want to hear, who has always believed that simply explaining was enough, who has almost no patience for political theater and little interest in using his office for pure optical purposes. Despite his rock-star origins, he’s no showman. And at times, he comes off as almost determinedly tone-deaf…
That may be Obama’s ultimate legacy—more technician than tactician, and a man who, perhaps, had more faith in the American public’s ability to discern substance from style than was warranted. But another legacy was assured Tuesday night: The man who promised to fix politics was instead buried by them.
David Leege, political scientist emeritus at Notre Dame, summarized his assessment of the election in a late night email:
“Bi-election year 2014 was the final chapter in making the president small. The immediate aftermath of 2008 was that Americans had finally conquered their racial aversions. The election of Barack Obama was a victory both for renewed national hope and long-awaited democracy. Obama was big, a star, a voice to be reckoned with, a mind to be taken seriously.
“By 2014 Obama was small, a punching bag, easily bullied, the one to whom small politicians could talk tough, abusively, the one whose ideas were ignored, the one whom his fellow partisans would come to avoid at all cost. How could this happen in six short years?”
They, the Republican Party, must understand that they have one objective. There was one lesson that was being taught last night, one message being sent: “Stop Obama. Stop this. Stop this country careening out of control and being transformed into something it was never founded nor intended to be.
“Stop the Democrat Party. Stop Barack Obama.” The Democrat Party part of that has been dealt with in the Senate and the House. Make no mistake: If voters wanted Republicans to work with Democrats, they wouldn’t have seen to it that so many Democrats got creamed last night. The country is tired of Democrats. The country is worn out with Democrats.
The country’s depressed because of Democrats. The country is out of work because of Democrats. The country is feeling aimless because of Democrats. The country is not optimistic about its future because of Democrats! There is no way the vote yesterday was a signal to work with them. They have had six years of unstoppable destruction, and the American people — and I, by the way — want it stopped.
Via the Daily Caller.
“The Dems have to reinvent themselves all over again. The Obama era is over.”