While the race for control of the U.S. Senate is not over yet, and Democrats are aggressively defending embattled incumbents as well as supporting capable candidates in traditionally Republican states like Kentucky and Georgia, the situation is looking grim for the president’s party.
While the Senate is not yet in Republican hands, Democrats are engaging in the stages of grief right before our eyes as the last remaining bulwark propping up the nearly spent Obama presidency crumbles.
The nation bore witness to Democrats’ denial when the party’s committees began spending in states like South Dakota and Georgia. Yes, these races are close, and to suggest that they are going to end up Republican victories on November 4 would be a dangerous misreading of the polls. But Democrats’ chances in South Dakota are dependent on voters turning against a former GOP governor because he is being investigated for a corruption scandal – a hope that did not bear fruit for liberals who were convinced Wisconsin’s Scott Walker’s supposedly imminent indictment would turn off Badger State voters in 2012. In Georgia, the surging and capable Michelle Nunn needs to win a majority of the popular vote on election night – an unlikely prospect in a red state in a Republican year. If that race heads to a runoff, the Republican candidate remains favored to win.
“We’re expanding the map, and the Republicans’ map is constricting,” Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted in an interview on CNN on Wednesday, even as Democratic incumbents like Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) see their once indomitable polling leads shrink.
Then, we were treated to the second stage of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross model: Anger. That stage was best exemplified by an incoherent New York Times editorial which alleged that Democratic candidates were supposedly guilty of a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions when they turned their collective backs on Barack Obama. Intimating racism on the part of the electorates to which vulnerable red state Democrats were appealing, The Times admonished 2014’s endangered Democratic incumbents for failing to vocally support either Obama or the policies he backs. The editorial board claimed that Obama is only broadly unpopular today because his own party has not defended him strongly enough.
In this claim, The Times previewed the next grieving stage, one with which Democrats are currently struggling: Bargaining. That is manifesting itself in a deluge of comments from frustrated Senate Democratic aides who are laying preemptive blame for their party’s losses at the feet of the president.
“The ineptitude of the White House political operation has sunk from annoying to embarrassing,” an unnamed Democratic aide told National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar.
“Folks are beginning to scapegoat and second guess, but there are plenty of reasons to do that,” Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) former aide Jim Manley told Bloomberg reporters. “President Obama doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. He seemingly floats above it all.”
Bloomberg revealed that Democrats are privately fuming over the White House’s decision to insert the president into local races where Obama’s allies are desperately trying to craft positions for themselves which distance the unpopular leader of their party.
But Democrats’ biggest outrage stems from a speech Obama gave earlier this month, when a remark that his “policies are on the ballot” turned an economic speech into a potent attack ad. The remark was pre-scripted, further enraging campaign strategists when they learned it was not a spontaneous gaffe. Even friends couldn’t defend the comment. “I wouldn’t put that line there,” acknowledged the president’s campaign guru, David Axelrod, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” calling it a “mistake.”
Even less substantive gaffes are taken by strategists as a sign of sloppiness – or worse, that the Obamas simply don’t care anymore. Campaigning in Iowa, first lady Michelle Obama repeatedly referred to Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley as Bruce Bailey, until she was corrected by an audience member. Her office compounded the problem by blasting out a transcript that referred to Braley as a gubernatorial candidate. It took an hour and a half before the document was corrected.
While Democrats’ pre-midterm frustration is being fueled largely by his recent missteps and bad poll numbers, their disenchantment with the president was seeded back in 2011, when Obama kept waiting to strike a bigger debt limit deal with House Speaker John Boehner, one that never happened. Stumbling responses to the Syrian civil war, the emergence of the Islamic State, and a scandal that toppled the head of the Secret Service all contributed to a Republican mantra that the Democrats can’t govern.
All this finger-pointing may prove to be premature. There is plenty of campaign left to go, and Democrats may yet rebound in states where the party’s candidates are in danger. Republicans, for their part, could implode, and GOP candidates in states like Georgia and Kentucky could make a fatal mistake that overcomes the advantages Republicans enjoy in a Democratic president’s sixth year midterm election.
It seems, however, that Democrats are steeling themselves for a bitter loss. The final stage before Democrats accept the functional end of the Obama presidency is depression. If they’re not feeling it yet, America’s most realistic liberals will soon.