Commentary Magazine


Dems Circle the Wagons

Imagine if a month before the presidential election, the Republican nominee were making trips to Alabama to try to pump up the base. You’d suspect something was very amiss. And so it is with the midterms as the Democrats struggle to get their own supporters engaged in an election that could well spell the end of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the end of the Obama agenda.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker explains the extent of the problem:

With four weeks until Congressional elections that will shape the remainder of his term, President Obama is increasingly focused on generating enthusiasm within the base that helped put him in the White House two years ago, from college students to African-Americans.

But Mr. Obama has aimed much of his prodding — and not a small amount of personal pique — at the liberals most deflated by the first two years of his presidency. Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

Baker’s not all that impressed:

At times, though, the message has come across as scolding and testy, in the view of some Democrats. … The White House may be making progress closing the so-called enthusiasm gap with Republicans, according to Democratic strategists who point to improving poll numbers and fund-raising. But the fact that Mr. Obama needs to make such a concerted effort highlights the depth of disaffection among liberals over what they see as his failure to aggressively push for the change he promised.

And with every hyper-partisan speech, Obama sends shivers up the spines of moderate Democrats, who realize it is making their problem with independents even worse. (“‘Even if Democrats close the enthusiasm gap with their base, they still have another enthusiasm gap to close with moderates,’ said Anne Kim, domestic policy program director for [The Third Way]. ‘Democrats don’t have the luxury of leaning on their base to deliver wins because there simply aren’t enough liberals.’”)

Only two years ago, the media excoriated Republicans for playing to a narrower and narrower segment of the electorate. The pundits chastised the GOP for following a misguided strategy — trying to expand the base at the expense of appealing to the bulk of voters in the center of the political spectrum. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn to deploy a self-defeating strategy.

But in the case of the Democrats, this is the only gambit left. By pursuing an extreme agenda and ignoring the concerns of most voters for nearly two years, the Democrats can’t very well charge back to the center, promising restraint, fiscal sobriety, etc. So all they can do is plead with (or holler at) their base and try to scare the voters. In doing so, they reveal themselves to be both desperate and cynical. And that’s not an image that’s likely to get those starry-eyed young voters to the polls, is it?