Commentary Magazine


Harry Reid Throws Himself a Pity Party

In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

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In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:

“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”

So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.

In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”

Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:

Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.

Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”

The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.

Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.

So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?

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Desperation Not a Good Negotiating Position

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

Kerry’s meeting comes against the backdrop of an extraordinary interview he gave to the press from Paris:

“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.” Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use. “They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”

The Iranians have a right to a peaceful program? Well, the Islamic Republic’s politicians have made that their mantra. But then, they conducted nuclear-weapons research at least until 2003, and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, in 2005, found Iran formally in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. This, in turn, led to the United Nations Security Council taking up the Iran file, and in turn this led to at least six UN Security Council Resolutions which found that Iran did not have a right to a peaceful program given its previous violations.

It’s all well and good for Iranian negotiators to talk about the rights bestowed by the NPT, but they fail to acknowledge their violations voided those rights. For many activists and diplomats, the talks are a fiction meant to preserve the NPT rather than the means to resolve the nuclear impasse. In this, the world sees the same nod and wink that it saw in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework with North Korea two decades ago. That Iranian negotiators hold North Korea up as a model to emulate should set off alarm bells.

Back to Kerry: He is absolutely wrong to suggest that Iran has any right to a peaceful program. The only reason why he might utter such a mantra is because he and the administration he serves have become so unilateral that they are prepared to waive not only American sanctions but several unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions.

That he believes Iran’s program is peaceful beggars belief, for it ignores that peaceful programs are not built under mountains or in secret. It ignores that if Iran’s goal is indigenous energy security, the Islamic Republic doesn’t possess enough uranium to fuel eight civilian reactors for more than 15 years. And it ignores that if Iran’s goal was merely energy security, it could have rebuilt its refinery capability and pipeline network to power itself for more than a century at a fraction of its nuclear investment. It ignores the fact that the nuclear fatwa which Obama found so convincing apparently does not exist. Nor does he pay attention to President Rouhani’s history of deception and statements which suggest extreme insincerity.

Kerry is right that there is no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. There was, indeed, no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement with the IAEA in 2005, or with the international community upon receiving its first sanction. All Iran had to do was come clean about its past and comply with its international commitments.

The fact of the matter is that the more Obama and Kerry project desperation for a deal—and Kerry’s statement with regard to November 24 reflects that desperation—the more likely it is that Iran will retrench itself, as Supreme Leader Khamenei recently did with his declaration of redlines.

Let us hope that Kerry remembers that the purpose of the Iran talks was to address issues of Iran’s dishonesty and non-compliance with its agreements, not to paper over them. Just as with North Korea, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all. Securing a legacy for Obama or being the center of international attention for a day or two is not worth the price to U.S. national security.

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Is Another “Awakening” Needed in Iraq?

If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

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If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance. But analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

There is something to this analysis, but not too much. Mainly what Hubbard is reporting on is the obvious fact that ISIS, as a Sunni jihadist group, can only take root in Sunni-majority areas. It is running out of new Sunni areas to conquer in Iraq largely because it has already taken control of most of the Sunni Triangle stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. That’s hardly great news, insofar as ISIS’s control over an area the size of the United Kingdom appears as strong as ever.

True, there are some signs of tribal revolts against ISIS, for example among the Jubouri tribe in Iraq, but ISIS is able to crush them with its typical ferocity. Meanwhile even the addition of Kurdish pesh merga fighters has not ended the ISIS offensive on Kobani, and while there are some slight improvements visible among anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, there is general acknowledgement that it will be a long time before Mosul or Fallujah can be liberated. To make matters worse, a lot of whatever success there has been in stalling ISIS’s momentum in Iraq comes from the actions of bloodthirsty, Iranian-backed militias under the direction of the Quds Force. Their growing power ensures that more Sunnis will continue to rally to ISIS for protection.

In many ways the situation feels, as the perspicacious Iraq analyst Joel Rayburn, a U.S. army colonel, has pointed out, like the dark days of 2005-2006 when there were scattered tribal revolts against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS predecessor, that AQI was able to “defeat brutally in detail.” The only way to defeat ISIS is by catalyzing a larger Awakening-style tribal uprising among the Sunnis. But that will require more direct American military intervention in Iraq and Syria than President Obama has been willing to countenance.

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The Jobs Report

The economy added 214,000 jobs last months, slightly below expectations, but August and September were revised upwards by a total of 31,000. Over the last six months new jobs have averaged 235,000 a month, which is better than it’s been in some time.

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The economy added 214,000 jobs last months, slightly below expectations, but August and September were revised upwards by a total of 31,000. Over the last six months new jobs have averaged 235,000 a month, which is better than it’s been in some time.

The unemployment rate dropped a notch, to 5.8 percent, the best since 2008, and, for once, the participation rate went up a notch as well, to 62.8 percent. In other words, more people joined the labor force last month than left it. But we have a long way to go to get back to normal. The rate was 66 percent before the financial crisis of 2008.

Wages remain sticky. The average private-sector wage in October was up three cents to $24.57. That’s 2 percent higher than the average wage a year ago. But inflation was 1.7 percent in that time.

So the economy continues it slow recovery. There is not the slightest hint of “irrational exuberance,” except, perhaps, in the stock market, whose rise has been driven not by a good economy, but by recovering profits and very low interest rates. The latter makes bonds and CD’s unattractive alternatives to equities.

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What’s Behind the Run Over Intifada?

In the wake of the latest acts of terror against pedestrians in Jerusalem, Palestinian public opinion is again reacting with the same sensitivity that it displayed back in June when a popular campaign mocked the plight of three Jewish teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. Support for the “run over intifada” is endemic on Palestinian social media in much the same way as it cheered the prospect that the lives of the three boys might be bartered for the freedom of captured terrorists. But instead of pondering whether support for the spate of attacks is, as the New York Times speculates today, a new intifada “for the 21st Century,” foreign observers would do well to understand that this violence is merely a symptom of the same refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy that has fueled the conflict for many decades.

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In the wake of the latest acts of terror against pedestrians in Jerusalem, Palestinian public opinion is again reacting with the same sensitivity that it displayed back in June when a popular campaign mocked the plight of three Jewish teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. Support for the “run over intifada” is endemic on Palestinian social media in much the same way as it cheered the prospect that the lives of the three boys might be bartered for the freedom of captured terrorists. But instead of pondering whether support for the spate of attacks is, as the New York Times speculates today, a new intifada “for the 21st Century,” foreign observers would do well to understand that this violence is merely a symptom of the same refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy that has fueled the conflict for many decades.

Though she recycles Palestinian myths about the reasons for the outbreak of the first two intifadas (including the infamous lie that it was Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount rather than a calculated response by Yasir Arafat to Israeli peace moves), Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren didn’t find many who thought this outbreak was likely to result in a repeat of the carnage of the second intifada that took thousands of lives on both sides. Indeed, she did her readers a service by reminding them that the security fence built to stop suicide bombers makes a return to the horror of that episode problematic for the architects of terror.

But if she really wanted to explain the origins of the current round of violence revolving around Palestinian anger about the efforts of a minority of Israelis to reverse the ban on Jewish prayer on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—the holiest site in Judaism as well as the home of the Al-Aksa Mosque—she would do well to go back further in history than 1987 or 2000. Conspiracy theories about Jews planning to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount go back to the efforts of Haj Amin el-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi ally who led the Palestinians throughout the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, to foment anti-Jewish pogroms long before there was a State of Israel, let alone an “occupation.”

Though Rudoren quotes Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as saying that he doesn’t want another intifada, she fails to mention his efforts to follow in the mufti’s footsteps by urging his people to resist Jews by any means and calling a terrorist who attempted to murder a Jewish activist rabbi a martyr who went straight to heaven. Yet it’s true that Abbas doesn’t want an intifada since a collapse of security cooperation between Israel and the PA might result in a Hamas coup that could cost him life or at least his control of the West Bank. Despite his incitement of violence, it is still the Israelis who guarantee his personal security. What Rudoren also fails to note is that it is Hamas that wants an intifada for the same reason it rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities this past summer even though it created more destruction for Palestinians in Gaza. Their goal is keep Palestinians focused on “resistance”—a synonym for endless war that won’t be solved by Israeli territorial concessions or even greater sensitivity for Muslim desire to deny Jews rights in Jerusalem.

The point about the current violence is that nothing the Israelis are doing—whether it is Jews moving into parts of Jerusalem where Arabs want no part of them or even walking around the Temple Mount—that would prevent the restarting of peace negotiations or even a two-state solution should the Palestinians ever change their minds and decide to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

The tone of despair of Palestinian society that we are told is at the heart of the disturbances is, as the meaning of the word intifada indicates, a desire for a “shaking off.” But, as they have demonstrated consistently since the time of the mufti, what they want to shake off is not the supposedly oppressive rule of Israel (which, as even Rudoren notes, allows a Palestinian prosperity that makes many of them reluctant to contemplate another destructive and pointless war), but the presence of the Jews altogether and intolerance for their presence. Once again a new generation of Palestinians are taking up gasoline bombs and even using cars as weapons in order to kill or injure Jews to further that same futile aim and in the name of this ancient hatred. Though outlets like the Times promote the notion that the violence is caused by Jewish actions, the new intifada if it happens will be very much like every other episode in the Palestinians’ hundred years war against Zionism. Those that wish them well should urge them to try to shake off this rejectionist mindset lest they waste another century in pointless conflict.

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Dems May Regret Obama’s Immigration Orders

President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

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President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

Though immigration reform advocates have been begging him to use the power of the presidency to bypass Congress on this issue for years, the president didn’t promise to do so until this past June when he spoke of issuing the orders by the end of the summer. But embattled red-state Democrats begged him to hold off at least until the election so as to avoid their being tainted by a decision that would have enraged voters. Seeking to help politicians who were his supporters even if they avoided the unpopular president like the plague during the campaign, Obama complied.

This was a mistake since the postponement enraged Hispanics who rightly felt they had been stiffed once again by a president who had chosen not to act on immigration in his first two years in office when Democratic majorities would have given him anything he asked for. This led to a distinct lack of Hispanic enthusiasm for congressional Democrats that helped sink candidates like Senator Mark Udall in Colorado. But far from quieting concerns from the rest of the public, the threat that the president would trash the rule of law in this manner as soon as voters were presumably no longer paying attention only helped generate more support for Democrats. In the end, the president got the worst of both worlds by stalling on amnesty.

But now that the election is over, there really is no political reason to delay further. If Democrats were holding onto the hope that the Louisiana runoff election for Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat could help them retain a majority in the Senate, the president might still be dithering on the issue. But with the Republicans already holding 52 seats after the dust settled on Tuesday (with one more to come from Alaska once those results are finalized), Landrieu’s survival is irrelevant to control of Congress. The president is unlikely to postpone the move to help Landrieu, whose uphill battle in the runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy seems like a hopeless cause. Indeed, it is so hopeless that despite the lack of any other races in which to invest at the moment, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled the plug on nearly $2 million in television ad buys for her reelection effort.

Thus, the president did not shy away yesterday from making the case for his impending actions even though both Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner warned him that he was going to “poison the well” of bipartisan cooperation even before such efforts began. In doing so, he returned to his familiar theme in which he said the reason he had to act was Congress’s failure to pass its own immigration reform bill.

This is a theory of democratic governance that defies both logic and the Constitution. The president may regret the failure of the House to pass a bipartisan reform bill that made it through the Senate. But that unwillingness to put that measure into law provides no legal or moral authority for the president to attempt to put one aspect of that bill into law unilaterally. Whether it is wise or not, Congress is under no obligation to pass legislation that it does not support even if that is the president’s wish.

There are reasonable arguments to be made on behalf of a reform of a broken immigration system as well as for doing something to bring the estimated 12 million illegals already in the country under the umbrella of the law. But what the president is planning to do isn’t reform. Nor will it fix the system. If anything, the spectacle of millions of people here in violation of the law being granted permission to stay without benefit of a vote in Congress will only encourage more illegal immigration, much as the president’s past advocacy of such measures helped create the surge of illegals at the border this past summer. The long-term result will only be to render hopes of controlling the border even more illusory.

Will the executive orders recapture Hispanic enthusiasm for the Democrats? Maybe. The assumption is that Republican opposition to amnesty will ensure that Hispanics vote for the Democrats for generations to come. But Hispanics already support the Democrats for a variety of reasons. And with two years to go until the next time the voters go to the polls in a federal election it is just as possible that many will not soon forget the cynical manner in which they were manipulated this year. But let’s assume that the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote is further strengthened by the president’s decision. What Democrats need to understand is that merely playing to their base and ignoring the rest of the voters can sometimes do as much harm to their cause as it does good.

What happened this year should have made the president and his supporters understand that the spectacle of a porous border undermines support for immigration measures. At this point, even conservatives who supported the Senate bill now realize that their House colleagues may have been right when they insisted that the border had to be secured before anything could be done to deal with the status of those already here illegally. While something needs to be done to fix the system, the border surge made a comprehensive approach politically impossible.

But for the president to now defy both public opinion and the will of Congress by acting on his own will do more than embitter his Republican antagonists. Though it will mollify one part of his coalition, rather than putting the issue to bed this end run around the law will create even more anger in the political grass roots around the country that will ensure that this issue will still be red hot in 2016. As they should have learned this year, it takes more than an energized base of minorities to win elections. Amnesty for the current crop of illegals will bring us more border surges and more damage to the rule of law. Obama may be content with that being part of his legacy, but it will be his fellow Democrats who will still be stuck trying to explain a move that can’t be defended when they go back to the voters in the future.

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Tuesday’s Tidal Wave

It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

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It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

  • The Republican Party made substantial gains in the Senate, the House, among governorships, and in state legislatures. It now has a comfortable majority in each. The Republican Party “is basically the nation’s governing party,” as my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin put it.
  • In the Senate, Republicans started the week with 45 seats. They’re likely to end the year (after the December 6 Louisiana runoff) with 54–a net gain of nine seats. Note well: Not since 1980 have Republicans beaten more than two incumbent Democrats. On Tuesday, Republicans defeated four incumbent Democrats–in Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alaska–and they’re favored to win in Louisiana. Republicans also won open seats in Iowa, West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, all previously held by Democrats.
  • The GOP will hold at least 31 governorships, including gains made in the traditionally Democratic states of Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
  • The GOP now holds 69 of the country’s 99 state houses and senates. (The previous high was 64 chambers in 1920.)
  • Republicans will have full control of at least 29 state legislatures, the party’s largest total since 1928.
  • In the races for the Senate, House, and governorships, Republicans will have picked up 32 seats (nine in the senate, 19 in the House, and four governorships); Democrats will have picked up just four seat (three in the House and the governorship of Pennsylvania).
  • As for the damage the Obama years have done to the Democratic Party, consider this: During President Obama’s first term, Democrats held 60 seats in the Senate. By the end of his term they’ll probably hold 46, a net loss of 14. When Mr. Obama took office in 2008, Democrats had control of 257 House seats; by the end of his term, the likely number will be 185–a net loss of 72 seats. And when Mr. Obama was first sworn in as president, Democrats held 28 governorships; by the end of his term, they’ll hold 18–a net loss of 10 seats.

Prior to Tuesday’s election, the political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote, “President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row. In fact, Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman.” The midterm results were even worse for Democrats than Mr. Rothenberg anticipated. All of which may vindicate this judgment by Michael Barone, who said it looks as if President Obama will leave his party “in worse shape than any president since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century ago.”

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President Obama says, “What, me worry?”

In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

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In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

The numbers tell the story: In 2009, Democrats had 60 senators, when you include the two independents who caucused with them; in 2015, they will have 45. In 2009, Democrats had 256 members of the House; in 2015, they will have 192. In 2009, Democrats had 28 governors; in 2015, they will have 18. In 2009, Democrats controlled both legislative chambers in 27 states; in 2015, they will control only 11. In 2009, Democrats controlled 62 legislative chambers; in 2015, they will control only 28 (with one tie and two still undecided).

The impact of the carnage in state legislatures on Obama’s watch is hard to overstate. This is where the future classes of mayors, governors, and members of Congress are bred. This is where the boundary lines are drawn for congressional and legislative districts. This is where party leaders come from. And this is where the rules are made for party primaries and election laws are set. According to Tim Storey at the National Conference of State Legislatures, what we saw on Tuesday was an almost unprecedented “Republican wave,” which he said, leaves “Democrats at their lowest point in state legislatures in nearly a century.”

Even E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post, who can be depended upon to find the liberal silver lining in the blackest of political clouds, writes that Tuesday’s wipeout was “Bigger than 2010.”

And the Republicans have a large number of young, fresh political talents who are considered possible presidential timber in 2016, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (who’s 44), Senators Marco Rubio (43) and Rand Paul (51), governors Scott Walker (47) and Chris Christie (52), and former governor Jeb Bush (the old guy at 61). Many of these have thought deeply about what the country needs, and many of them have had extensive and successful executive experience. President Obama has shown what the lack of such experience can mean.

the Democrats, meanwhile, have a presidential bench that is thin, to put it mildly, and old. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (67), Senator Elizabeth Warren (65), and Vice President Joe Biden (71) are about it. None of those three have so much as ten minutes worth of executive experience.

President Obama, in his extraordinarily detached press conference yesterday about the debacle, seems to have been scripted by Alfred E. Neuman. As Condon wrote:

The president didn’t seem energized at all and certainly wasn’t very interested in analyzing the political cataclysm that now will color the remainder of his time in office. Instead, Obama was flat and unemotional in his mien, bloodless in his assessment of an election that claimed so many of his supporters, and passionless in his declaration of goals for the next two years. He even refused to come up with a word like “shellacking” (2010) or “thumping” (2006) to describe the slaughter. “Republicans had a good night” was as far as he would go.

By the way, has there ever been a president who gave such boring, humorless, graceless, and endless press conferences? One has the impression that if a reporter asked Obama what time it was, the answer would last ten minutes and wouldn’t contain the time of day. If you’d like a thoroughly entertaining contrast, spend ten minutes watching a master of the presidential press conference, John F. Kennedy, at work.

Obama’s self-absorption and ideological rigidity have made him not only a disaster for the country, but for his own party as well.

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Don’t Fear Civil Society

Any Republican midterm success is going to be treated by some corners of the media, inevitably, as a version of the “angry white male” meme that is both thoroughly discredited and utterly unkillable. As Tim Cavanaugh wrote yesterday at NRO, “Ever since the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings diagnosed Republican gains in the 1994 midterm elections with the deathless phrase ‘The voters had a temper tantrum,’ every midterm setback for a Democratic president has inspired mainstream media pros to let loose their inner Sigmund Freuds.”

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Any Republican midterm success is going to be treated by some corners of the media, inevitably, as a version of the “angry white male” meme that is both thoroughly discredited and utterly unkillable. As Tim Cavanaugh wrote yesterday at NRO, “Ever since the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings diagnosed Republican gains in the 1994 midterm elections with the deathless phrase ‘The voters had a temper tantrum,’ every midterm setback for a Democratic president has inspired mainstream media pros to let loose their inner Sigmund Freuds.”

Cavanaugh drew attention to one response at Yahoo News that painted the electorate as “self-loathing.” Cavanaugh’s post was headlined “Goodbye, Angry White Men; Hello, ‘Self-Loathing Electorate’.” If only. Just hours after Cavanaugh inaugurated this new era, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte predictably took readers back to bad old days of hackneyed hackery with her post, “Revenge of the White Male Voter.”

Now, the days in which such an “analysis” would be taken seriously are long gone. These days it would appear there is nothing to fear from a white male voter especially if he’s Republican, since Republican voters swept into Congress minorities, women, and minority women this year. Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina became the first black senator elected in the South since Reconstruction. But whether it’s vengeful white males or a self-loathing electorate, you can be sure the media’s leftists will find any sweeping Republican victories utterly incomprehensible.

There’s one kind of analysis, however, that goes beyond the usual trite nonsense. Another narrative started taking hold on the left that the 2014 midterms prove the system itself is broken. There were a rash of such columns and blog posts before the election, when the writing was on the wall. It has not stopped, since the election turned out worse for Democrats than it seemed. And I think it’s worth drawing attention to one such critique of the American polity, which is far more advanced a thought process than sputtering rage about white men electing black women to Congress. It comes via the New York Times’s Nick Kristof. He writes:

“Politics is the noblest of professions,” President Eisenhower said in 1954, and politics in the past often seemed a bright path toward improving our country. President Clinton represented a generation that regarded politics as a tool to craft a better world, and President Obama himself mobilized young voters with his gauzy message of hope. He presented himself as the politician who could break Washington’s gridlock and get things done — and we’ve seen how well that worked.

So far so good, if a bit clichéd. I agree, and have written as much, about the nobility of politics. That has less to do with politics as a profession and more to do with the fact that democratic politics is a far healthier way for citizens to resolve political disputes than any other on offer. But still, the point stands. Kristof, unfortunately, goes further:

I’m in the middle of a book tour now, visiting universities and hearing students speak about yearning to make a difference. But they are turning not to politics as their lever but to social enterprise, to nonprofits, to advocacy, to business. They see that Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America in her dorm room at Princeton University, has had more impact on the education system than any current senator, and many have given up on political paths to change.

I have to say that I find this incredibly encouraging. I don’t want the country to abandon professional politics completely, and I don’t think that’ll happen. Instead, the best thing that could happen to American politics is the reinvigoration of the “little platoons.”

There’s a serious disconnect, most prominently on the left today, between supporting the idea of charity and supporting the true practice of it. The left tends to think in terms of collective action when that collective action is taken through the state. Liberals believe that as long as someone has a good provided for them, it doesn’t matter if it’s through private charity or the state–that in fact it might even be better if it’s done through the state because that implicates everyone else in the act and it suggests the existence of a program through which more people could obtain such goods.

It could not be further from the truth, because when the state takes on a role as the sole provider society unlearns the habits necessary for a self-governing people. Additionally, for the government to be able to afford what it should provide, we need talented young people to go into business and strengthen the private sector. I don’t know exactly what Kristof means when he says “social enterprise,” but the fact that the people he meets want to bring about societal improvement themselves rather than by electing someone else who promises to do it for them it a sign of a healthy polity.

Government shouldn’t be toxic. But neither should private enterprise be equated with cynicism. We need both undertaking their proper responsibilities. And it sounds like Kristof is meeting bright young Americans who agree.

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White House Ignores Khamenei Response to Letters

The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

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The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

While we can debate the wisdom of this correspondence–and I think Obama is being extremely naïve–at least he seems to recognize that it is the supreme leader who makes decisions and not the Iranian president, no matter how smiley that president might be.

What struck me, however, was this statement in Solomon and Lee’s report:

Mr. Khamenei never directly responded to the overtures, according to U.S. officials. And Iran’s security forces cracked down hard that year on nationwide protests that challenged the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Actually, Khamenei did respond. On the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, he said this, in a mocking tone which is even more apparent in the Persian version of this speech:

The new US President made some beautiful comments. He also repeatedly asked us in writing and orally to turn a new page and help him change the present situation. He asked us to cooperate with him to solve global issues. He went as far as that.

Now, Khamenei continued to say he gave Obama a chance, but Obama didn’t come around. Khamenei then gloated about the strength of the Islamic Republic, a perception which Obama’s groveling tone has bolstered:

I wonder why they do not learn a lesson from what has happened. I do not understand why they are not prepared to get to know our nation. Do they not know that this nation is the one that resisted and brought the two superpowers – that is, the Soviet Union and America – to their knees? When there were two superpowers in the world, they were opposed to one another in almost all areas except in their enmity towards the Islamic Republic. This enmity was the only thing these two superpowers had in common. Why do you not learn your lesson? Today you are not even as powerful as you used to be. The Islamic Republic is several times more powerful today than those days, and yet you are speaking with the same tone? That is arrogance – talking to a nation arrogantly and using threats to get what they want. They threaten us. And our nation says it will resist.

Khamenei then warned the United States not to put its hope in reformers, as Obama seems keen to do:

Just because a handful of naïve or malevolent individuals have confronted the Islamic Republic does not mean that they can roll out the red carpet for Americans in our country. These individuals either had ulterior motives or had naively misunderstood the events without having very bad intentions – I do not want to be judgmental about their malevolence. Americans should know that the nation is resisting firmly.

The point of this is not to criticize the Wall Street Journal report which only relates what Obama administration officials said. But it is symptomatic of the problems of Obama administration diplomacy with Iran: Simply put, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry imagine sincerity where none exists and ignore any response that is not too their liking. Rather than acknowledge that Khamenei responded with a message Obama did not like, the White House and State Department would rather put the response down the memory hole, all the better to keep the process alive. The reality is this, however: No really does mean no.

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Obama’s Iran Promises Ring Hollow

At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

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At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote to the Iranian leader in the context of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, a common enemy of both the U.S. and the Islamist regime. The content of the letters as reported by the Journal is not as much a concern as the fact that the administration has kept its key allies in the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates out of the loop on the correspondence much as it did last year when the U.S. conducted secret talks with Tehran in order to facilitate the interim nuclear accord signed last November. President Obama apparently is far more interested in ingratiating himself with Khamenei than with Israel.

This news casts a shadow over the president’s assurances given in his press conference yesterday about Iran. The president said that the U.S. would learn whether a deal could be obtained with Iran sometime in the “next several weeks.” But what Iran has already learned about U.S. policy in the last two years is that the best thing they have going for them in the talks is that the president’s obsession with creating a new détente with the regime always outweighs his supposed commitment to stopping them. Though he boasted of how tough he has been on them—taking credit for economic sanctions that he opposed tooth and nail prior to their adoption—the record of the past six years is quite different. The president jettisoned America’s considerable economic and military leverage over Iran last year when he agreed to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed them to keep their nuclear infrastructure.

In the follow-up talks conducted this year, which have predictably gone into overtime far past the original timeline and may well extend beyond the new November 24 deadline, he has offered even more concessions, including absurd proposals about disconnecting the pipes that link the centrifuges spinning the nuclear fuel. He continues to buy into the lie that Iran seeks nuclear power for its “peaceful energy needs”—a joke considering its oil reserves—and seems more interested in reintegrating the brutal, anti-Semitic regime back into the international economy than in halting their support of terrorism or forcing them to stop building missiles that couldn’t threaten the West as well as Israel and moderate Arabs.

The president has continued to frame opponents of his weak diplomacy as seeking war, a point he alluded to in his remarks. But the real alternative to Obama’s campaign of appeasement was the tougher sanctions proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition that he expended considerable political capital to defeat last year.

The problem isn’t whether the Iranians will sign a deal either before November 24 or after it. It is, rather, why the U.S. has abandoned the stance the president enunciated in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney when he said any agreement must result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program. Last year’s interim agreement ensured that its nuclear program would survive. If the leaks coming out of the current talks are right, there’s little doubt that the sanctions will be lifted (by Obama simply ordering them not to be enforced rather than by congressional vote as required by law) in exchange for measures that will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. But, as he did last year, the president will claim victory and count on his press cheerleaders to back up his assertions that critics are warmongers.

As troubling as the letters to Khamenei may be, it is Obama’s diplomatic initiative that is the real threat to America’s Middle East allies as well as to the long-term security interests of the West. What those worried about this threat need are not more hollow promises from the president but transparency about an appeasement strategy.

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Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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Is the Post-Abbas Mideast Already Here?

Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

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Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

Hamas and other Palestinian “resistance” groups have not, apparently, abandoned suicide terrorism after all and are now engaged in a renewed campaign. This type of violence is, of course, reminiscent of the second intifada, which is why it has Jerusalem on edge. The Palestinians have responded to each attack by rioting, so they are basically in a consistent state of violent agitation.

There is something more concerning about this latest round of Palestinian violence, however. Though it is perpetrated in some cases by members of Hamas, it has a spontaneous quality to it, and the riots in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are keeping the atmosphere that engenders it going seemingly around the clock. And as much as it is reminiscent of past such campaigns of violence, there is indeed something a bit different about this one: it is heralding the arrival of the post-Abbas Palestinian polity.

Now it’s true that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is not only still present and accounted for but is also helping to spark the violence by calling for resistance against Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. But Abbas is not leading; he’s merely following in the path of those who started the party without him. Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, and he surely knows that chaos and disorder and Hamas-fueled anarchy only undermine his own power. But he can’t stand around with his hands in his pockets either, because support for spilling Jewish blood drives Palestinian popular opinion.

If Abbas survives this current attempted intifada–and make no mistake, Abbas is in the crosshairs of Hamas’s terror campaigns as well–it will be nominally and, in fact, quite pathetically. And the current disorder is precisely why Israel has been protecting Abbas and helping him hold power: Abbas is no partner for peace, but he is the least-bad option available. A powerless, irrelevant, or deposed Abbas means these terror campaigns of Iran’s Palestinian proxies are all that remains of concerted Palestinian strategy.

Concern over a post-Abbas Middle East is becoming more common. Last month, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur wrote a typically incisive essay on the state of play between Israel and the Arab world, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–often one to embrace ideas that seem absurd only to soon solidify into conventional wisdom–was preparing for this eventuality. Last year Jonathan Schanzer explained, quite rightly, that it was time for Abbas to name a successor to ensure continuity in the peace process.

But what if the more dangerous scenario is not an absent Abbas but an irrelevant one? That’s what seems to be playing out right now. It’s possible that an Abbas-led PA is a leaderless PA. There is no old guard and no new blood, but something in between that leaves the Palestinian polity not yet in league with the Islamist fanatics of Hamas in a fluid, precarious state on the precipice.

And so we have the vicious yet cartoonish spectacle of the Palestinian president effectively joining a Palestinian intifada that started without him. Arafat wanted an intifada, and he got one. Abbas didn’t, and for a time was able to prevent it. Does Abbas want an intifada now? He can’t possibly be that stupid. But it doesn’t appear to matter.

Just what is Abbas actually doing, as leader of the PA? Getting the Palestinians closer to a peace deal? Certainly not; he walked away from it (more than once). Preventing Hamas from setting the terms of the debate? Hardly. Keeping a lid on an angry Palestinian polity inclined to violence? Not anymore. Abbas may or may not get swept away by a new uprising. It’s ironic that what could save him from such a fate is the fact that, increasingly, it might not even be worth the trouble.

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Arrogant Obama Has Learned Nothing

Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

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Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

Though the press had wondered what adjective he would use to describe a defeat similar in magnitude to a 2010 midterm election that he dubbed a “shellacking,” his speech writers appeared not to have employed a thesaurus. The most he would say was that “Republicans had a good night.” But this unwillingness to acknowledge the magnitude of the outcome was merely the prelude to a lengthy display of presidential arrogance that made it clear he had no intention of taking the voters’ lack of confidence to heart or changing a thing about a presidency that the majority of Americans no longer regard favorably.

Rather than taking a page from Bill Clinton’s book and understanding that he had to adjust his policies and ideas to political reality, Obama seems to think he has no lessons to learn from the voters who broadly rejected the policies that he told us last month were on the ballot yesterday.

Asked several times by members of the press if he was prepared for genuine compromise, all he gave them was the usual boilerplate he’s been employing throughout his presidency about being willing to listen to Republicans if they come up with reasonable ideas. The only problem with that: he believes the only one with reasonable ideas is Barack Obama.

As for the American people, he dismissed their votes as merely a symptom of restlessness and impatience, not a reasoned assessment of his conduct in office. If there was any conclusion to be drawn from their votes, he took it as a slap at both Republicans and Democrats. As far as he is concerned, what the people want is for Congress to “get stuff done.”

It’s true that Republicans in Congress have favorability ratings even lower than the president’s awful poll numbers. But to claim that the voters took an equally dim view of both sides of the partisan divide is to ignore the results. Democrats took a beating around the country as an anti-Obama backlash tarnished their brand and even some highly unpopular Republicans wound up winning races easily that had been thought to be hard slogs. With his party suffering massive losses in the Senate and the House and even in governor’s races where Democrats suffered from their association with the president, it is simply impossible to honestly assert that what happened was a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave. Instead of a “Seinfeld election” about nothing, it was an anti-Obama six-year itch of historic proportions.

Speaking prior to Obama’s press conference, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the president to work with Republicans and accept the olive branch he was offering. But he also warned him that if he ignored the election results and moved ahead with plans to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, he would be immediately “poisoning the well” and making bipartisan deal-making far more difficult.

Yet that is exactly what Obama seems intent on doing. His attitude about immigration was no different than his stance on every other issue where he differs from Congress: It’s my way or the highway. If a Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t want him doing end runs around their constitutional authority, Obama says their only choice is to pass bills he likes. If not, he will act on his own.

This is the main point of his remarks. Though he spoke at times of being willing to have more drinks or rounds of golf with Republicans or members of Congress—something most presidents understand is part of their job but which Obama regards as being somehow beneath his dignity—the president believes such meetings are merely an opportunity for others to listen to him and learn the errors of their ways. In his view, “getting stuff done” means Republicans passing liberal legislation, not him being willing to agree to some of the GOP agenda.

Listening to Obama discuss the need to accommodate or even listen to critics, it’s easy to see he still thinks of himself as the adult in rooms full of petulant children that an unkind fate has forced him to supervise. Rather than treat opponents as equals who must be met halfway, even after six years of failure with Congress, Obama still seems to believe he is, at worst, a constitutional monarch who must suffer the indignity of hobnobbing with commoners even if he would rather die than relinquish his royal prerogatives.

Though the president did the right thing last night by calling election winners from both parties and scheduling a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, based on today’s performance there is no reason to think the next two years will be any different from those that preceded them when it comes to Obama working with his opponents.

It is one thing to be undaunted by electoral reversals. It is quite another to pretend that such petty annoyances are unworthy of your attention. Though he was the one who reminded us in January 2013 that “elections have consequences” when he was asked about working with defeated Republicans, this is a president who believes that he doesn’t have to heed the verdict of the voters if it goes against him and his allies. That, and not congressional squabbling, is the answer to the question voters ask about why Washington doesn’t function properly.

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Where This Administration’s Sympathies Really Lie

If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

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If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

When the Palestinian-American teen Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad was shot dead by Israeli security forces on October 25 he was poised to hurl a Molotov cocktail onto the Israeli traffic passing below on Route 60. Israeli soldiers had successfully intervened to prevent an attack. Yet the State Department could not have been more displeased. Making an issue of Hammad’s dual American citizenship, spokeswoman Jen Psaki demanded a full “speedy and transparent investigation.” Psaki went on to stress that the United States “expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.” Shockingly, when pressed on this message of condolences given the circumstances of the shooting, Psaki confirmed that the administration does not consider Hammad a terrorist, this despite his links to Hamas.

Contrast that with how the state department has responded to the shooting in Jerusalem of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a longtime campaigner for religious freedom and equal worshiping rights for Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount. The point is made most sharply by a letter–made public over social media–sent by Rabbi Glick’s brother to the Israeli writer and commentator Caroline Glick (no relation). Yitz Glick writes in the letter: “I just wanted to tell you that our family is shocked that we haven’t heard a single word from the US State Dept., the US Ambassador or any representative of the US government regarding the shooting of our brother a US citizen Yehuda Glick…No outrage, no wishes of speedy recovery not a single word from any US official.”

The Obama administration’s handling of this case is made all the more troubling by Palestinian president Abbas’s role here. As it was, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority had already ramped up incitement against Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, making Rabbi Glick a likely target for attack. But worse still, when Glick’s would-be assassin was subsequently killed in a shootout with the police during an attempted arrest, Abbas hailed this terrorist as a martyr and described Israeli attempts to prevent further violence at the Mount as being tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

A pretty twisted agenda is at work when the U.S. government is seeking to whitewash a terrorist hurling Molotov cocktails at Israelis, classifying him not as a terrorist but rather simply a U.S. citizen and a minor, demanding that those responsible for preventing this terror attack be put under immediate investigation. Worse still, that when an American rabbi is shot in an assassination attempt, the administration clearly couldn’t care less. Of course, there’s no hiding the fact that the state department despises Glick’s campaign. They clearly oppose any change to the “status quo” on the Temple Mount; in other words, the U.S. government is against religious freedom for Jews and Christians at this most important of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But then, the Obama administration’s entire attitude on Jerusalem is warped. Not only has the administration opposed building homes for Jews in Jerusalem neighborhoods that even under the most farfetched versions of the two-state solution would remain part of Israel. But just this week, the administration’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Israel’s claims in Jerusalem are comparable with Russia’s in Crimea.

Popular wisdom has it that all of this shameful behavior is an expression of the administration’s central Middle East delusion: that distancing America from Israel will win friends and influence people throughout the Muslim world. Well, no doubt some in the State Department believe that. But it is clear that for others, and indeed for Obama himself, feelings here run much deeper. Quite simply this administration’s sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause, for it is just the kind of third-world cause that so many went into the Democratic Party hoping to promote. Because frankly, Obama’s unrealistic realpolitik only goes so far in explaining the callousness with which his government has reacted to these two very different shootings of U.S. citizens in Israel.

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UN Counts 10 Million Stateless People. None Are Palestinians

The UN chose a poor moment to unveil its latest campaign; the American media have little attention for anything outside the midterm elections this week. And that’s a pity, because this particular campaign deserves massive attention. The goal is to eliminate statelessness, a problem that affects some 10 million people worldwide, according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. But here’s the really noteworthy point: Not one of those 10 million people in UNHCR’s tally is Palestinian.

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The UN chose a poor moment to unveil its latest campaign; the American media have little attention for anything outside the midterm elections this week. And that’s a pity, because this particular campaign deserves massive attention. The goal is to eliminate statelessness, a problem that affects some 10 million people worldwide, according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. But here’s the really noteworthy point: Not one of those 10 million people in UNHCR’s tally is Palestinian.

This point deserves emphasis, because even ardent Israel supporters often buy the false claim that Palestinians are the only people worldwide who lack citizenship in any country, making the Palestinian problem unique. But in truth, as UNHCR’s figure shows, even if every Palestinian in the world were stateless (which they aren’t), they would still constitute a minority of the world’s stateless population.

Nor are Palestinians overall the most miserable of the world’s stateless peoples, by a long shot. Granted, there are exceptions: Palestinians in war-torn Syria, for instance, definitely rank high on the misery scale (as do other Syrians). But many of the world’s stateless people would be thrilled to enjoy the conditions of stateless Palestinians in, say, the West Bank.

For real misery, consider the Rohingya, a Muslim community living mainly in Buddhist-majority Burma that accounts for about 1 million of UNHCR’s 10 million stateless people. The UN dubs them “one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.” For starters, most live in real refugee camps–not permanent towns like those in the West Bank, with real houses, schools, medical clinics, electricity, running water, and all the other amenities of civilized life.

Moreover, since Burma expelled Doctors Without Borders in February, many Rohingya have had no access to medical care at all, and deaths due to the lack of such care occur almost daily, as the Washington Post reported in May. Even when local Buddhist doctors are available, many Rohingya won’t use them; after the violence they have suffered from Buddhist mobs, the distrust runs too deep.

By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have access not only to their own fairly well-developed medical systems–including a network of hospitals built, it should be noted, entirely by the “Israeli occupiers”–but also to Israel’s world-class hospitals. And needless to say, Palestinians have no fear of using Jewish doctors; even senior Hamas officials routinely send their relatives to Israel for treatment. Just last month, for instance, Ismail Haniyeh’s daughter was hospitalized in Israel, making this the third time over the last year that Israel has treated a close relative of Hamas’s leader in Gaza.

Then, of course, there are the anti-Rohingya pogroms. As Kenan Malik wrote in the New York Times in May, “Villages, schools and mosques have been attacked and burned by Buddhist mobs, often aided by security forces. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed, and as many as 140,000 people—more than one in 10 of the Rohingya population—have been made homeless.” This doesn’t get nearly as much press as settler attacks on Palestinians, yet the latter are mainly petty vandalism–despicable and unacceptable, but not even in the same league. (And lest anyone mention Gaza, wars aren’t comparable to pogroms, either. Last I checked, the Rohingya weren’t lobbing thousands of rockets at Burma’s Buddhist citizens.)

In short, the Rohingya are yet another case in which the world’s obsession with the Palestinians has diverted attention from a much greater human-rights abuse.

Nevertheless, there is a bit of poetic justice in this story: In a rare lapse from the UN’s usual two-faced behavior, UNHCR said it couldn’t include the Palestinians in its list of stateless people because the UN General Assembly has recognized Palestine as a state. Of course, since no such state actually exists, many Palestinians really are stateless. But having demanded that the world recognize their nonexistent state, the Palestinians are discovering that even at the UN, you can’t simultaneously be a recognized state and a stateless people.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy After the Midterms

In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

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In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

He should, especially in national security which I am convinced was as important a factor in this election as it was in the 2006 midterm when, in the midst of Iraq War debacles, the Republicans lost control of the Senate. The president did himself incalculable damage when he set a “red line” for Syria last year but failed to enforce it. That created an image of weakness and indecision which has only gotten worse with the rise of ISIS and Putin’s expansionism in Ukraine.

The question now is whether the president will overcome his initial denials and squarely face the message that the voters were trying to send: He needs to change course. I will leave it to others to spell out what such a course change will mean in domestic policy, but when it comes to national-security policy he would do well to take all or some of the following steps:

  • Save the defense budget from the mindless cuts of sequestration, which are already hurting readiness and, if left unabated, risk another “hollow” military.
  • Impose tougher sanctions on Russia, freezing Russian companies entirely out of dollar-denominated transactions, while sending arms and trainers to Kiev and putting at least a Brigade Combat Team into each of the Baltic republics and Poland to signal that no more aggression from Putin will be tolerated.
  • Repeal the 2016 deadline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and announce that any drawdown will be conditions based.
  • Increase the tempo of airstrikes against ISIS, and send a lot more troops to Iraq and Syria to work with indigenous groups–we need at least 15,000 personnel, not the 1,400 sent so far. This isn’t a call for U.S. ground combat troops, but we do need a lot more trainers, Special Operators, and support personnel, and they need to be free to work with forces in the field rather than being limited to working with brigade and division staffs in large bases far from the front lines.
  • Make clear that any deal with Iran will require the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities–not just a freeze that will leave it just short of nuclear weapons status.
  • End the rapprochement with Iran that has scared our closest allies in the Middle East, and make clear that the U.S. will continue its traditional, post-1979 role of containing Iranian power and siding with the likes of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE over Tehran. A good sign of such a commitment would be launching airstrikes on Iran’s proxy, Bashar al-Assad.
  • Get “fast track” authority from Congress and finish negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

Sadly, the odds are that Obama won’t do any of this except for TPP. That will leave a Republican Congress seething in frustration but its ability to compel presidential actions in foreign policy will be highly limited–even with the addition of knowledgeable lawmakers such as Senator Tom Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, and with Senator John McCain, the GOP’s leading foreign-policy voice, taking over the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers can demand that Obama submit any deal with Iran for Senate approval as a treaty and, if he refuses, they can vote to keep sanctions in place that Obama will try to suspend unilaterally–but in practice achieving this outcome will be very difficult because it will require veto-proof majorities in both houses. Democrats are happy to talk tough about Iran, but will they vote against their own president on an issue where he is sure to lobby hard? Lawmakers can also push for increases in the defense budget but this will undoubtedly require a deal with the White House in which the GOP would have to swallow higher domestic spending and/or tax increases that will be a hard sell on the right.

In the end Obama will retain tremendous discretion as commander-in-chief. We can only hope he will use his authority to stop the dissipation of American power and prestige that has occurred in recent years. He would do well to borrow a page from Jimmy Carter who became a born-again hawk after the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But given Obama’s history of stubborn adherence to ideology, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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The Biggest Winners and Losers of 2014

The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

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The 2014 midterms turned out to be the wave election that Republicans dreamed of and Democrats dreaded. But amid the debris of what turned out to be a stunning repudiation of the administration, there are some people who must be judged to be the big winners and losers on both sides. Here’s my list:

The Winners:

The first and most obvious winner is Mitch McConnell who will be the majority leader in January. Earlier in the year, he looked to be under siege in his race for reelection but ran among the smartest campaigns in the country as he first swamped a Tea Party challenger and then destroyed Alison Lundergan Grimes, the candidate the Clintons helped handpick to oppose him, in the general election. McConnell finally gets his chance to run the Senate and the man in position to put the heat on President Obama even if he won’t have an easy time with some members of his caucus.

Tom Cotton came into 2014 as the most hyped GOP Senate candidate but was thought to have run a lackluster campaign that turned an easy win into a nail biter. In the end, he won his Arkansas seat in a landslide. That puts him back into the conversation as the most highly regarded young (only 37) Republican and a future leader of his party.

In the course of the last year Joni Ernst went from an unknown to the leading Republican dragon slayer who turned a likely Democratic hold to a GOP Senate pickup in Iowa. The first woman sent to D.C. from the Hawkeye State, she turned out the most effective ad of the campaign in which she spoke of castrating hogs and making the pigs in Washington squeal. Forget about Sarah Palin and Michel Bachmann. Ernst is the new female star of the Tea Party with a bully Senate pulpit.

Ted Cruz wasn’t on the ballot and his GOP nemesis McConnell got a major promotion. But Republican control of the Senate will also make him more important and bring even more attention to his guerrilla campaign against both the Republican establishment and the Obama administration as he prepares for a presidential run.

Scott Walker’s struggles to win reelection as Wisconsin governor were supposed to tarnish his hopes for the presidency. But rather than being knocked off by another huge effort by the unions and liberal super-PACs, he wound up prevailing by a convincing margin that will boost his credibility for 2016. Though he is still untested on the national stage, winning three elections in four years elevates him to the first tier of GOP candidates if, as is expected, he runs for president.

Chris Christie didn’t have a very good 2014 that started off with Bridgegate and ended with a video in which he told a critic to “sit down and shut up.” But as head of the Republican Governors Association, he has to get some of the credit for a GOP wave that saw major wins for the GOP in blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. That gives his flagging hopes for the presidency a much-needed boost.

The only Democrat on our list is Elizabeth Warren, another senator who wasn’t on the ballot. Being in the minority in the Senate will only enhance her standing as the idol of her party’s base. It will also put her in a position to wage her own guerilla campaign to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire should he be tempted to try to cut any deals with the GOP Congress.

Losers:

The most obvious loser is President Barack Obama for whom this midterm must stand as a personal repudiation even if he chooses to pretend that is not the case. Whether he chooses to try to work with Congress or attempts to govern on his own with executive orders of questionable legality, the lame duck period of his presidency begins now.

The other obvious loser is Harry Reid who gets demoted from majority to minority leader. Reid, who ran the Senate with an iron fist and squelched debate from both sides of the aisle, will not find the change invigorating or pleasant.

Even before her party tanked on Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was already lined up to be the scapegoat for the defeat. The White House has been waging a war on women with her in the cross-hairs for the last three years but the devastating loss may give Obama the opening to finally fire someone that he seems to dislike almost as much as Benjamin Netanyahu.

The competition for the worst campaign of 2014 is stiff but the title has to go to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who singlehandedly turned a safe Democratic Senate seat into a Republican pickup. Though, as I noted, Joni Ernst ran a nearly perfect campaign against him, Braley’s gaffes will not soon be forgotten. Runners up would be Alison Lundergan Grimes who turned a close race against an unpopular Mitch McConnell into a rout. And she still isn’t saying whether she voted for Obama. Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was probably even more inept than Braley or Grimes but doesn’t get the title because she would have lost in red Texas even if she ran a perfect campaign. Still, the collapse of her mendacious run for statewide office was as catastrophic as her rise from obscurity via a pro-abortion filibuster last year was meteoric.

She wasn’t on the ballot yesterday, but the likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a hit as much as any other member of her party. The scope of the GOP win and the inability of her party to generate an Obama-style turnout without the president on the ballot should chill Democratic optimism about the next national election. So should the failure of the Clintons to help Democratic candidates around the country.

The one Republican loser on the list is Scott Brown. Though he wound up losing by only a whisker in a New Hampshire Senate race that few gave him a chance to win, had he stayed home in Massachusetts and run for governor, he’d have been the one to beat Martha Coakley. Had Brown done so, he’d be governor and have a bright future instead of seeing his career in elective politics finished.

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Midterms Were About Something: An Anti-Obama Wave

For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

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For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

By the time the dust settles after the Louisiana Senate runoff, it’s likely the Republicans will have won a 54-seat Senate majority, increased their stranglehold in the House to a level unseen since before World War Two, and picked up several governorships, including some in deep blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland.

This was a surprise for a number of reasons, chief of which was that the polls were mostly wrong. Last week I wrote about the complaints of liberals that polls showing the election as a virtual tie were skewed in favor of the Republicans because they were undercounting Hispanics and other minorities. But in fact, as political stat guru Nate Silver points out on his FiveThirtyEight blog, the polls actually had a pro-Democrat bias ranging from 4 to 12 points in states around the country.

But once we set aside the arguments about how and why the predictions were off, three things must be acknowledged:

1. There should be no doubt that this election must be considered a wave election in very much the same category as 2006 and 2010.

2. The reason for the wave was a broad dissatisfaction with President Obama.

3. The size and scope of the GOP victory and the failure of the Democrats to replicate the Obama coalitions that won in 2008 and 2012 should shake their confidence that it can be easily reconstructed in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

The reason why so many people doubted it would be a wave had to do with the fact that congressional Republicans had negative favorability ratings that were even worse than the terrible poll numbers given President Obama. But those who assumed that these two factors would, at best, cancel each other out forgot that it’s the president who runs the country and must bear the responsibility for government dysfunction, not a divided Congress.

Examining the state-by-state results, we see almost across the board that Democrats underperformed when compared to 2012. Races that were supposed to be neck and neck like those in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and Georgia all turned out to be a near or actual GOP landslide. They will try to put this down to the problems of getting their voters out for a midterm but this underestimates their problems.

The president won in 2012 with better than 50 percent of the vote. But with his popularity ratings down to approximately 40 percent, the only way to understand the results is to realize that approximately one in five of his past supporters were so disillusioned with his performance and either stayed home on Tuesday or voted for Republicans. This happened in spite of the Democrats’ vaunted ground game that was supposed to compensate for the drawbacks of a second term president’s doldrums and add two to three points to their totals.

While it is true that overall turnout was down when compared to the last presidential election, in many states, the number of African-Americans who voted met the Democrats’ expectations. If young people, women, and Hispanics didn’t follow suit, it’s not just because the midterms are better suited to Republicans but because the leader of the Democratic Party has largely lost the faith of many of those who swept him to office on a near-messianic hope and change campaign. Though the New York Times is already telling us that the president is merely irritated with the results and doesn’t regard it as a repudiation of his presidency, that is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from this election.

Finally, the extent of the Republican victory debunks the Democrats’ pre-election sour grapes arguments that contended that even a loss in 2014 wouldn’t impact their ability to win again in the next presidential year in 2016.

It is true that Democrats have excelled in presidential years when compared to midterms in the last two such cycles. But those Democratic waves in 2008 and 2012 were mostly the function of the historic candidacies of Obama and not necessarily a reflection of the party’s appeal when he wasn’t on the ballot.

The ability of Republicans to be competitive and to even win governorships in blue states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and purple states like Wisconsin also shows that the GOP ground game has caught up to that of the Democrats. This also undermines assumptions that Republicans don’t have the ability to expand their map in 2016 with the right candidate at the top of their ticket.

So long as the president remained popular it was possible for Democrats to assume that demography would determined the destiny of future elections. But unhappiness with Obama cut the legs out of the president’s coalition and sent a message that his putative Democratic successor shouldn’t be confident about replicating his 2012 numbers when she runs for president. In that sense, this year’s anti-Obama wave shakes the foundation of the liberal media’s conventional wisdom about the political balance of power. Republicans will have plenty of opportunities to both help or hurt their cause in the next two years based on their performance in Congress. But heading into the 2016 campaign — which starts now — a midterm election that was both a wave and very much about something shows that the supposedly permanent Democratic advantage in national elections may already have started to disappear.

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