If you are a capable, electable Democratic Senate candidate — say, in Kentucky or Georgia — you can’t be very pleased with Obama. The EPA regulations require explanation, or desperate distancing. The Taliban prisoner swap — which the administration somehow assumed would be noncontroversial — reveals layers of legal, ethical and geopolitical controversy. The VA hospital scandal continues to unfold, with 79 percent of Americans putting at least part of the blame on the president. And beneath it all, Obamacare — which generates Republican resentment without producing a counterbalancing Democratic enthusiasm.
Some of these factors are within Obama’s control, and some aren’t. But five months before the Senate majority will be determined, Obama is complicating the messaging of some Democratic Senate candidates and exposing them to political risks he refused to take himself.
Over the years, progressives have argued that Obama has engaged in too much accommodation with Republicans and too much self-censorship when it comes to his deepest beliefs. More recently, Obama seems to have internalized that criticism, embarking on a pen-and-phone strategy of executive actions. And this has been accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s systematic appeal to the Democratic base — alleging a war on women while conducting a war on the Koch brothers.