Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Independents Problem

The Third Way group put out a report that argues that the Democratic Party needs to motivate moderates, not just the liberal base, to turn out and vote. The report argues that because the number of conservatives has grown during the Obama years, energizing liberals is simply not enough. Indeed, because of the shrinking liberal base and the growing conservative one, the group found that “[i]n 16 of the 21 most hotly contested states this cycle, Democratic candidates who simply match President Obama’s overall 2008 performance with liberals, moderates and conservatives still won’t have the votes to win.” Hence the need to reach out to moderates.

The problem is that at this stage, only 25 days away from the midterm elections, Democrats can do almost nothing to appeal to moderates, particularly given that so many Democratic candidates are locked in because of their voting record. They are tied to the policies they have supported and to the larger failures of Obamaism. The public isn’t going to ignore the past 20 months; lawmakers cannot airbrush their record from history.

Third Way seems to grasp what is, to my mind, the most important political development during the Obama presidency: the hemorrhaging of support from among independents. What’s complicating the life of Obama and his party is that at the same time that independents are being alienated, the liberal base is being discouraged. The president has achieved quite a difficult feat: convincing most of the country he’s too liberal and convincing much of the Democratic base he’s not liberal enough.

As a political strategy, Obama has decided in the past few weeks to try and rally his base by (typical for Obama) hectoring and lecturing it. In the process, though, he is further estranging independents. The Obama administration, in other words, is doubling down on an approach it’s pursued (more or less) for 20 months now: governing in a deeply liberal manner. In a nation in which voters self-identify as conservatives rather than liberals by a margin of more than 2-to-1, this is destined to fail. The Obama administration has taken a bad hand and, in almost every case, made it worse. Which is why we’re going to see an epic repudiation on November 2.