Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

Free Advice for Liberals: Stop Complaining About Skewed Polls

With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

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With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

Two years ago as we headed for the presidential vote, most of the polls were telling us that Barack Obama would win a clear if narrow victory in his bid for reelection. Battleground states that Republican nominee Mitt Romney badly needed to build an Electoral College majority were all in play but survey after survey showed him trailing. The response from some conservative pundits was to take a close look at the polls, drill down into the data, and see if the sample was kosher. Most of the major polls were built on a statistical model that seemed to overestimate the number of affiliated Democrats being asked their opinion. The samples invariably showed Democrats turning out in the same numbers as they had in 2008 when Obama swept to the White House on a cloud of hope and change charisma and messianic expectations. It seemed impossible that after four years of an indifferent presidency that Obama could perform the same magic trick again when it came to inspiring the Democratic base and huge numbers of minorities, young voters, and unmarried women to come to the polls. Seen in that light, the pollsters were skewing the sample to favor Obama and the Democrats and shortchanging Romney who might well be even with the president once the totals were adjusted to account for who would really show up and vote.

Unlike many other conservative writers who spent the year convinced there was no way as bad a president as Obama could get reelected, I felt he was more likely to win than not. His historic status as our first African-American president made him a unique political figure and his charms, though lost on me and most other conservatives, kept him popular even after a dismal record in office. But after spending enough time parsing electoral survey samples, I became convinced that wildly inflated estimates for the number of Democrats who would vote had created an exaggerated poll-driven picture of the likely outcome that was boosting Obama’s chances and hurting Romney. Along with others who had worked out the same math, I thought the likely Obama victory predicted by New York Times statistical guru Nate Silver seemed to be based on inaccurate data.

My logic was impeccable and my arguments sound. But there was one problem. I was wrong.

It turned out the pollsters were right to think that the Democratic base would turn out for Obama in 2012 the same way they had in 2008. Silver had rightly understood that the pollsters had accounted for possible changes in the electorate. More minorities and young Democrats would turn out than four years earlier or in the 2010 midterms. The result was that Obama did sweep almost every battleground state, although some were by slender margins. Silver was acclaimed as a genius and those of us who had questioned his figures and those of the pollsters he cited had to admit we were mistaken.

I retell this story not out of nostalgia for a result I still consider unfortunate for the nation but as a cautionary tale for liberals who are spending this week digging the same kind of hole I dug for myself prior to the 2012 vote. Listen to MSNBC at any time of day or read some of the people who now write for The Upshot, the section that replaced Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog that he pulled from the Times and now operates as his own independent franchise, and you’ll see, hear, or read similar refrains to the ones I was sounding just two years ago. We are told that the sample sizes being used by the polls showing Republicans winning are underestimating Hispanics, women, or Democrats. Adjust the polls for what they think are the real totals and you’ll find that races are tied or with Democrats rather than Republicans leading.

My advice is to Rachel Maddow and Co. is simple: stop digging. Save your breath and start preparing for the worst rather than creating embarrassing sound bites that will come back to haunt you in a week.

As the redoubtable Silver notes today on his site, errors on the scale that conservatives thought possible in 2012 or liberals are alleging today are always possible but not terribly likely. Talk about skewed polls is the last refuge of those in denial about an electoral trend. That was true two years ago and it’s happening today. The temptation to try and “unskew” the polls is obvious and it’s what readers in our bifurcated media want to see. But, as Silver writes, “Usually this doesn’t end well for the unskewers.”

With so many polls out there showing much the same thing about a Republican advantage, the chances that they are all wrong about who will vote (or have already cast ballots in early voting states) are slim. Unskewing seems like it makes sense but it is invariably based more on wishful thinking than sober analysis. Just as conservatives had to eventually accept that pre-election poll estimates of Democratic turnout were right, so, too, will liberals likely have to own up to the fact that today’s expectations about their base’s voting patterns are similarly accurate. Indeed, as Silver writes, it may be that pollsters are underestimating the number of Republicans this year just as they did the same to some degree for Democrats in 2012.

This should not cause us to lose all skepticism about polls. They should be closely examined and probed for possible errors. But such analyses tend to be based on the idea that the candidates you prefer are being shortchanged more than a real suspicion of error. Assuming that the errors will all go one way or that your candidate will  catch the breaks is a guarantee that you’ll soon be eating your hat, humble pie, crow, or whatever metaphor you prefer. Ms. Maddow and her friends will soon find that it doesn’t taste any better in their mouths than it did in mine.

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The Coming Recriminations

According to Reuters, “President Barack Obama is fighting his last campaign mostly at staid Democratic fund-raising events in hotel ballrooms and the private homes of donors, a far cry from the huge crowds who turned out in droves during his White House runs and helped elect him twice.”

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According to Reuters, “President Barack Obama is fighting his last campaign mostly at staid Democratic fund-raising events in hotel ballrooms and the private homes of donors, a far cry from the huge crowds who turned out in droves during his White House runs and helped elect him twice.”

The Hill newspaper, in its story, reports, “Candidates in battleground states are paddling furiously to put as much clear blue water as possible between themselves and the man in the White House.”

This is embarrassing. And a week from tomorrow, after the midterm elections are done and the votes are counted, it’ll be ugly. The knives, already sharpened, are in the process of being unsheathed.

The recriminations among Democrats is going to be quite something to behold. For my part I’m betting that, if only because of force of habit, Mr. Obama will blame his predecessor.

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What Should Midterm Elections Be About?

You can tell Republicans are having a pretty good election season when the leftist press and commentators–who relentlessly pushed a presidential election to be about Big Bird and birth control–complain that they don’t like the arguments over which these elections are being fought. Translation: they’re losing those arguments.

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You can tell Republicans are having a pretty good election season when the leftist press and commentators–who relentlessly pushed a presidential election to be about Big Bird and birth control–complain that they don’t like the arguments over which these elections are being fought. Translation: they’re losing those arguments.

Some of the attempts to dismiss the campaign are laughable. Today the New Republic headlines its midterms piece “It’s Not Just You. The Midterms Are Boring.” As Noah Rothman tweeted in response: “9+ razor tight races which determines control of Congress in final years of a presidency? #yawn.” Indeed, the “boring” tag is ridiculous to anyone with an interest in American politics. But there’s a more interesting charge leveled against the midterms, and it’s worth delving into.

One critique gaining steam in the left-media is that the midterms are “the Seinfeld elections”–they’re about nothing. In the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes pushes back, but first shows just how prevalent the accusation has become:

The Washington Post may have been first in declaring the coming midterms “kind of—and apologies to Seinfeld here—an election about nothing.” But the Daily Beast chimed in: “America seems resigned to a Seinfeld election in 2014—a campaign about nothing.” And New York magazine noted (and embraced) the cliché: The midterm election “has managed to earn a nickname from the political press: the ‘Seinfeld Election,’ an election about nothing.”

Soon enough this description was popping up everywhere—the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Politico, and many others. The 2014 Midterms, the Seinfeld Election.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the liberal echo chamber lives up to its name. Hayes goes into detail on what this election really is about–and it’s not about nothing. His response does demonstrate why the left wants people to think the midterms are about nothing: because they’re actually a referendum on many of the issues on which Democrats have failed the country miserably.

A more substantive critique of Republicans by conservatives is that they’re not running on a clear, coherent agenda. This argument holds that Republicans have a real opportunity in these midterms to offer not just criticism of the president and his party but an alternative governing agenda.

I am sympathetic to the conservatives’ call for an agenda. But overall, it strikes me as a bit odd that we’re having this conversation at all.

The 2014 midterms are obviously not boring, and they’re not “about nothing.” But neither are they “about” a specific policy fight or one cohesive overarching governing agenda. Because they shouldn’t be.

The midterms are, in fact, a collection of congressional races in which voters will choose politicians to represent their district or their state, and concentrating only on national issues at the expense of local concerns is a strange way to run elections in a republic. The man who best understood this in the modern era was Howard Dean. Here is how Matt Bai, then writing for the New York Times Magazine, described Dean’s relationship in 2006 with the Democratic Party establishment as Dean, the DNC chair, was instituting his “50-state strategy”:

This conflict between the party’s chairman and its elected leaders (who tried mightily to keep local activists from giving him the job in the first place) might be viewed as a petty disagreement. But in fact, it represents the deepening of a rift that has its roots in the 2004 presidential campaign — a rift that raises the fundamental issue of what role, if any, a political party should play in 21st-century American life. Dean ran for president, and then for chairman, as an outsider who would seize power from the party’s interest-group-based establishment and return it to the grass roots. And while he has gamely tried to play down his differences with elected Democrats since becoming chairman, it seems increasingly obvious that Dean is pursuing his own agenda for the party — an agenda that picks up, in many ways, where his renegade presidential campaign left off. Now, at power lunches and private meetings, perplexed Washington Democrats, the kind of people who have lorded over the party apparatus for decades, find themselves pondering the same bewildering questions. What on earth can Howard Dean be thinking? Does he really care about winning in November, or is he after something else?

And how did it turn out? Dean’s strategy was a smashing success, and helped tremendously in 2008 as Barack Obama turned red states blue, won more than 50 percent of the vote in both 2008 and 2012, and heralded an era of endless stories on whether the emerging Democratic electorate will lock the GOP out of the White House for the foreseeable future. But the post-Dean Democrats started abandoning that strategy, and it is costing them.

The Obama-manufactured “war on women” is floundering in states like Colorado while being openly ridiculed in a House race in New York. And Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic incumbent facing a challenge from Scott Brown, was booed and jeered for robotically declaring “Koch brothers!” during a debate in New Hampshire. Democrats are not talking to the voters; they are merely relitigating past presidential elections. And the voters aren’t amused. Republicans shouldn’t make the same mistake.

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Democrat Midterm Woes May Impact 2016

With just over a week left before the midterm elections, most of the battleground states that will decide control of the Senate are still in play. That is allowing Democrats to believe that just the right amount of last minute cash infusions or voter turnout efforts will allow them to hold on to a share of power on Capitol Hill. But with yet another new major poll showing that Republicans are expanding their edge on the question of who should control Congress and with polls of battleground states also showing momentum edging toward the GOP, the Democrats’ reliance on gender — their 2012 trump card — is proving to be a crucial mistake that could have an impact on the next presidential election.

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With just over a week left before the midterm elections, most of the battleground states that will decide control of the Senate are still in play. That is allowing Democrats to believe that just the right amount of last minute cash infusions or voter turnout efforts will allow them to hold on to a share of power on Capitol Hill. But with yet another new major poll showing that Republicans are expanding their edge on the question of who should control Congress and with polls of battleground states also showing momentum edging toward the GOP, the Democrats’ reliance on gender — their 2012 trump card — is proving to be a crucial mistake that could have an impact on the next presidential election.

With so many key races still remaining tight, it is still possible to argue that 2014 isn’t a wave election in the manner of past midterm landslides such as the GOP landslide in 2010 or the Democratic earthquake of 2006. But the telltale signs of disaster are clear for President Obama’s party. It’s not just that The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg Center poll shows Republicans gaining ground in crucial Senate races or the stories reporting that Democrats have already conceded that they are going to lose even more ground in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Rather, it’s the polling that shows their reliance on the so-called gender gap was a mistake. Merely labeling Republicans as ogres waging a “war on women” not only won’t be enough to save them next week, it is also possible that the assumption that the same factors that allowed Democrats to easily win the last two presidential elections may not necessarily apply in 2016.

Democrats have consoled themselves throughout the current election cycle by pointing to the fact that the key races of 2014 are almost all being held in deep red states. Combined with the lower turnouts that are usual in midterms and the normal burden that falls on the party of the incumbent president in his second term and it was possible to argue that any outcome — even a disaster on the scale of 2010 — could be discounted. Based on the almost complete turnabout from the Republican tide of 2010 to the Obama re-election two years later, there seemed no reason to worry that defeat this year would diminish Democratic chances of repeating the same formula in 2016 that allowed them to win in 2008 and 2012.

In both those years, Barack Obama rode a tidal wave of minority voters and support from women into the White House. More than that, the war on women meme also allowed his party to hold onto Senate seats in 2012 that they had seemed certain to lose. The tactic seemed so foolproof that Democrats like Mark Udall have doubled down on the idea to the exclusion of almost everything else in his bid for re-election to his Colorado Senate seat.

But in Colorado, as elsewhere, the same drumbeat about GOP troglodytes seeking to victimize helpless females isn’t working. Part of it can be put down to Democrats facing smarter Republican candidates like Udall’s opponent Rep. Cory Gardner, who aren’t making idiotic gaffes about pregnancy and rape. But the real problem is that when faced with genuine threats to their well being such as a sluggish economy, as well as worries about whether an incompetent Obama administration is up to the challenges from Ebola and ISIS, women are refusing to fall for the Democrats exploitation. Whereas voters in 2010 were up in arms about rising taxes and debt and ObamaCare, after six years of Democratic government that is all hope and no change, they are thinking about alternatives.

If in fact they do as well as pollsters think they may next week, Republicans shouldn’t, as they did after 2010, simply assume that they could win in 2016 just by showing up. Their party is just as unpopular as the Democrats and two years in control of both Houses of Congress will give them plenty of opportunities to remind voters of what they don’t like about the GOP. But what 2014 may do is to remind the chattering classes that like time, politics doesn’t stand still. If Democrats are to win in 2016, it won’t be playing the same songs that won them the love of the voters in 2012. The war on women is failing them this year and will fail again — even with a woman on the top of the ticket — if that’s all they have to say for themselves in the next presidential year.

American voters may be seduced every now and then by a would-be messiah but sooner or later they revert to their usual requirements in leaders: competence and sobriety. Republicans flunked that test during George W. Bush’s second term just as Democrats are doing them same during Barack Obama’s swan song. Republicans failed to learn the lessons of 2006 and sought to run in 2008 on the issues that had given them victories in the past and wound up losing again in 2008. Instead of pretending that more war on women talk will solve their problems, Democrats should realize that they might be repeating that pattern.

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Obama’s Gift to Republicans

One of the more amusing things to observe as we get closer to the midterm elections is the great push-and-pull that’s going on between Democratic candidates and the president.

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One of the more amusing things to observe as we get closer to the midterm elections is the great push-and-pull that’s going on between Democratic candidates and the president.

A nearly endless number of Democrats are distancing themselves from Mr. Obama, including those who have voted with him 99 percent of the time. Perhaps the most comical performance so far was by Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat in Kentucky who’s challenging Mitch McConnell. Ms. Grimes has repeatedly refused to say whether she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012, including invoking a high constitutional principle to keep her sacred little secret.

It’s now gotten to the point where even the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, distanced herself from the president of her own party. And here’s what really wonderful about this: Mr. Obama won’t let Democrats run from him. He’s like their hound of heaven.

Earlier this month, in a speech to Northwestern University, the president said, “I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” And just in case that message was lost on folks, earlier this week, in an interview on Al Sharpton’s radio show, Mr. Obama said this:

some of the candidates there, you know, it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout. The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me — they have supported my agenda in Congress.

And this:

This isn’t about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And I tell them, I said, you know what, you do what you need to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn up.

Now in this case, the president is absolutely right; every one of the Democratic incumbents on the ballot this November is a stalwart supporter of the Obama agenda. But they’re frantically trying to pretend they’re not; and the president, in denying them this fiction, is complicating their lives immeasurably.

Surely Mr. Obama knows all this. But the man senior aides referred to as the “black Jesus” during the 2008 campaign–a person who sees himself as a world-historical figure, healer of the planet, the symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions, and all the rest–isn’t going to go gently into the good night. No siree. His vanity won’t allow it.

As a result, Mr. Obama is, for Republicans, the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

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Congress Can Stop Obama’s Iran Appeasement End Run

While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

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While most of the attention on the Iran nuclear issue has rightly been on the negotiations being conducted by the U.S. and its allies with Tehran, the Obama administration is already planning for the aftermath of what it hopes will be a new agreement. But rather than preparing for an effort to persuade Congress of the merits of its diplomatic efforts, the president is planning on an end run around the laws it passed and unilaterally suspending enforcement of the sanctions on Iran. In doing so, he will not only be continuing a path he has pursued on issues such as immigration but will go even further in violating the constitutional requirement that the legislative branch approve all treaties with foreign powers.

The president’s problem isn’t limited to the fact that many Americans are rightly worried that the deal in the works with Iran is one that won’t do much to prevent the Islamist regime from eventually realizing its nuclear ambition. It’s that the economic sanctions that were imposed on Iran by laws enacted by Congress must be rescinded in the same manner that they were passed: by a vote. If the agreement that the U.S. is pushing hard to conclude with Iran is a good one, then the president and Secretary of State John Kerry should have no problem selling it to Congress, which could then simply vote to rescind the sanctions.

But such a vote would require hearings and a full debate on the matter. During the course of that debate, it almost certainly would become clear that what the administration is prepared to allow Iran would fall far short of the president’s campaign pledges to end Tehran’s nuclear program or to prevent it from ever getting a bomb. The administration has already publicly floated some of the terms it is offering the Iranians. While last year’s weak interim deal tacitly endorsed Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium that could be used for a weapon, the U.S. has retreated further from its initial tough position and is now prepared to allow the Iranians to have at least 1,000 centrifuges that could process the material to build nuclear fuel. Since the Iranians are insisting with their usual persistence that they be allowed to keep all of their centrifuges, most observers now assume that the U.S. will agree to a deal that will allow them to have thousands.

In order to save face, American negotiators have reportedly suggested that the pipes connecting the centrifuges be disconnected, a pathetic stance that further undermines American credibility since it is understood that they can easily be reconnected anytime the ayatollahs deem it in their interest. The same can be said of Iran’s agreement to deactivate its existing stockpile of enriched uranium since that too can be reversed with ease.

Seen in that light any agreement—assuming the Iranians are willing to agree to another weak deal rather than simply waiting until the international coalition Obama is leading unravels—will be difficult to sell to a skeptical Congress that pushed an unwilling administration into agreeing to the sanctions in the first place.

In order to evade the law, the president will have to do two things.

First, he will have to declare that any agreement will be merely an informal add-on to existing international deals rather than a treaty and so avoid a constitutionally required two-thirds ratification vote in the Senate he’d be unlikely to win. That will be a blatant lie but since the move would have to be taken to court, it’s a gamble he’d likely win.

Second, he will have to unilaterally suspend enforcement of the sanctions on Iran passed by Congress rather than have them rescinded. As even the New York Times notes in its article on the topic yesterday, that is not a stance even most Democrats would tolerate.

More to the point, the president’s prepared end run also signals the resumption of a political battle over renewed sanctions that the administration thought it had conclusively won last winter. At the time, majorities in the House and the Senate were prepared to enact even tougher restrictions on commerce with Iran that would have tightened the noose on Tehran’s oil business. But, with the able assistance of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the president was able to stop the Senate from voting on the measure proposed by Senator Robert Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee chair and Senator Mark Kirk. Supporters of more sanctions (which would not have gone into effect until the next phase of negotiations with Iran was pronounced a failure) were branded “warmongers” who didn’t want to give diplomacy a chance and thus effectively silenced.

But this time that strategy won’t work.

After a year of talks that have been dragged beyond the original six-month deadline and may yet be further extended as Iran continues its decade-old strategy of running out the clock on the West, it is no longer possible to argue that Obama needs to be given an opportunity to test the good will of the Iranians. Nor can the president pretend that the current terms are anything but a transparent surrender to Iranian demands and not a fulfillment of his pledges.

That’s why Menendez is prepared to try again this fall when Congress returns to Washington after the midterm elections. As the Times reports:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said over the weekend that, “If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state.” He has sponsored legislation to tighten sanctions if no agreement is reached by Nov. 24.

If that weren’t enough of a threat to force the administration to stiffen its spin in negotiations with Iran, there is also the real possibility that in January the president will not be able to rely on Reid to spike sanctions legislation. If, as they are favored to do, the Republicans take control of the Senate, it is highly likely that Obama will find himself presented with new sanctions legislation on his desk in the new year whether or not he has signed off on a deal with Iran.

This is a crucial moment in the negotiations with Iran when the outcome is not yet determined. Unfortunately, the president’s efforts to loosen sanctions have already undermined international support for isolating Iran. With the possibility of a new deal, they are on the verge of complete collapse. But renewed and even tougher sanctions on Iran will signal to Europe that their expectations of a return to business as usual with Iran were a bit premature.

While the president thinks he can evade his constitutional requirements to let Congress vote on a treaty or rescind another law he doesn’t like, members of both parties appear ready to respond appropriately to this lawless plan. Unlike environmental regulations or even immigration laws, appeasement of Iran isn’t something that can be imposed on the country by presidential whim.

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America’s Anxious Mood and What it Means for Republicans

Every political and presidential election takes place within a context and environment. And while it’s impossible to know what things will look like two Novembers from now, the overall mood of the nation then is bound to have some similarities to the mood of the nation now.

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Every political and presidential election takes place within a context and environment. And while it’s impossible to know what things will look like two Novembers from now, the overall mood of the nation then is bound to have some similarities to the mood of the nation now.

So what is the mood at this moment? The predominant feeling of Americans, according to polling data, is deeply unsettled and anxious, the product in large part of the multiplying failures of the Obama administration.

Think of the list from just the last year, from the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov to the VA scandal, the flood of immigrants (many of them children) crossing the southern border, the Russian invasion of Crimea and its destabilization of Ukraine, Islamist advances in Libya, the colossal misjudgment about ISIS and the half-hearted air campaign the president is waging against it, and now the string of mistakes by the CDC in dealing with the Ebola virus.

Beyond this is the sluggishness of the economy, which has lasted the entire Obama presidency. Despite some encouraging recent jobs reports, overall the situation remains quite problematic: a drop in median household income even after the recession officially ended, the unusually low workforce participation rate (the lowest in 36 years), the broader failures of the Affordable Care Act, the rise in income inequality (nearing its highest levels of the last 100 years) and poverty (the poverty rate has stood at 15 percent for three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since the mid-1960s), the record number of people on food stamps and the fact that this year China overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy, the first time America has been in second place since 1872. It’s little wonder, then, that only around a quarter of Americans believe the country is on the right track.

In addition to all this, there are longer-term trends, such as middle-class Americans working longer hours than they did since 1979 while median net worth is lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1989. Trust in government is at all-time lows. Disdain for the political class (especially Congress and the media) is sky-high. Americans are less trusting of our public institutions and of one another. More and more of us are living in “ideological silos”. Two-thirds of Americans think it is harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for their parents, and three quarters believe it will be harder for their children and grandchildren to succeed. Americans are pessimistic, feeling unusually vulnerable and polarized. (Political polarization is “the defining feature of early 21st century American politics,” according to the Pew Research Center.)

Given all of this, and assuming that in two years the political environment and psychological state of Americans is roughly what it is now, it’s interesting to contemplate some of the qualities they may be looking for in a GOP nominee.

My guess: A conservative who radiates competence, steadiness, and reassurance; who is perceived as principled, reform-minded, and reality-based; and who’s comfortably associated with a middle-class governing agenda. “Our main task is not to see that people of great wealth add to it but that those without much money have a greater chance to earn some,” is how former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels put it in 2011, and his critique still holds. This can be done while also focusing needed attention on those living in the shadows of society.

In the aftermath of the Obama era, Americans will be a good deal more skeptical of empty, extravagant rhetoric. The public can also do without political figures comparing themselves to Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Jesus (all of whom Obama or his closest aides have compared Mr. Obama to). A modesty about what government can accomplish would be most welcomed; so would distrust of those who cling to ideology even when facts argue the contrary.

Voters are likely to trust individuals who have demonstrated a mastery of governing and can identify with, and have something to say about, the challenges facing many Americans. (One example is soaring higher education costs, a subject very few Republicans talk about and even fewer Republicans have solutions for.) The Republican Party’s standard-bearer certainly needs to be perceived as modern, future-oriented, and understanding the ways the world is changing.

A GOP nominee will also have to speak more to people’s aspirations than to their fears. A campaign that could be symbolized by an angry, clenched fist won’t work. Demonstrating touches of grace and winsomeness probably will. And because Republicans are on a long-term losing streak at the presidential level, including having lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections, they’ll need to find someone who is able to do more than rally the faithful. They’ll have to win over a significant number of people who are not now voting Republican but are persuadable. Which means Republicans might want to look to someone characterized by intellectual depth and calm purpose rather than stridency. In a recent speech, Tony Blair said, “In the end parties can please themselves or please the people.” He contrasted those who have the character of a governing party with those who seem like the shriekers at the gates outside. That’s a distinction worth bearing in mind.

To be sure, no single individual will embody all these qualities, and someone may well come along who personifies other characteristics in a way that is highly appealing. In addition, of course, politics is never static. But my guess is that given the mood and attitudes of Americans right now, some combination of the traits I’ve sketched out will be needed if Republicans hope to win.

While I fully expect Republicans to do quite well in the mid-term elections 15 days from now, it’s worth recalling that Republicans did historically well in 2010 (adding 63 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate) yet lost the presidency and House and Senate seats in 2012. And like it or not, we’re in a period when the Republican Party’s image has reached a historic low; when a majority of Americans said last year that the GOP is out of touch (62 percent), not open to change (56 percent), and too extreme (52 percent); and when, at the presidential level at least, the GOP faces an uphill climb.

President Obama’s cascading failures will make things easier for Republicans in 2016, but it still won’t be easy.

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Ebola, Politics, and Life’s Unfairness

Polls are telling us that Americans think their government is incompetent and that President Obama has lost their confidence. That’s the upshot of the new Politico poll that shows Obama is now regarded as a worse manager than George W. Bush, whose administration was widely derided as a mess by most people in its last years. That this trend has been exacerbated by the Ebola crisis is unquestioned. And that has some liberals crying foul. But all this means is that Democrats are learning something that was brought home to Republicans after Hurricane Katrina: life is unfair.

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Polls are telling us that Americans think their government is incompetent and that President Obama has lost their confidence. That’s the upshot of the new Politico poll that shows Obama is now regarded as a worse manager than George W. Bush, whose administration was widely derided as a mess by most people in its last years. That this trend has been exacerbated by the Ebola crisis is unquestioned. And that has some liberals crying foul. But all this means is that Democrats are learning something that was brought home to Republicans after Hurricane Katrina: life is unfair.

The embrace of the Ebola story by the mainstream media and especially the cable news networks is infuriating many on the left. As Eric Boehlert whined on Media Matters’ website on Friday, by going whole hog on Ebola and thus heightening the fear many Americans understandably fear about it, “the press is doing the GOP’s Ebola bidding.” Boehlert speaks for many liberals when he complained that by stoking fear rather than concentrating on educating us about a disease that, at worst, only few Americans will probably contract, the media is strengthening the critique of the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis. Along with the worries about the rise of ISIS terrorists in the Middle East, the federal government’s initial fumbling and sometimes mistaken response to the virus has reinforced the notion that President Obama isn’t capable of protecting the American people.

If this strikes Democrats as unfair, they are not entirely wrong. While the emergence of ISIS can be blamed in no small measure on a president who pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq and refused to intervene in Syria without worrying about the consequences, no reasonable person should think that his decisions could be linked to the spread of a disease in West Africa. Nor can the errors of the Center for Disease Control or those made by the Dallas hospital that treated the first Ebola victim in the U.S. be seriously argued as having flowed from President Obama’s desk.

But these failures do fit in with a narrative that has been building throughout the president’s second term in which government has been associated more with scandals (the VA, the IRS, spying on the press, Benghazi) and incompetence (the ObamaCare rollout) than anything else. So it is hardly surprising that many view the administration’s halting response to Ebola as merely confirming an existing diagnosis that Obama hasn’t the capacity or the will to govern effectively or, more importantly, carrying out government’s first obligation: protect the people.

Much like the way the government’s failures during Hurricane Katrina fed an existing Democratic narrative about Bush’s incompetence and the mess in Iraq, so, too, does the news about Ebola bolster Republican carping about Obama. Bush was no more responsible for bad weather in the Gulf of Mexico, the collapse of the levees, and the dereliction of duty on the part of local first responders in New Orleans than Obama is for the fool who told a nurse infected with Ebola to get on a plane to Cleveland.

Yet just as presidents are allowed to take credit for actions undertaken by the government to which their contribution has been minimal, so, too, must they take the blame for failures in which their role was equally small. All of which reminds us that sometimes life isn’t fair. People are often wrongly put down as failures because of circumstances they didn’t create. But when you are president of the United States, you have to take the good with the bad.

But if that was true for Bush, who was not only wrongly blamed for the devastation in New Orleans but also maliciously branded as a racist for the initial failures of first responders, it is even more so for Obama. It was he, after all, who ran for president not so much as a problem fixer but as a would-be messiah of hope and change who would turn back the oceans as well as sweep Washington clean. It was Obama who championed the idea that we must give more power to government so it could both help and protect us. So when government is seen to fail to the point where the president is now forced to appoint a veteran political spin master to be the new “czar” to manage its response to Ebola, he and his fans are in no position to complain about the public’s unrealistic expectations or its willingness to blame the administration for a climate of fear that arose from its failure to take steps that might restore confidence.

But there is more going on here than poetic justice. In and of itself Ebola isn’t a good reason to vote for the Republicans in 2014 any more than a hurricane was to vote for Democrats in 2006. But politics is about perceptions, not fairness. Americans deserve a government they can trust. If President Obama has lost it, he can curse the fates or blame the press but the person he should be holding responsible for this breakdown of trust is the one staring back at him in the mirror.

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GOP’s Hawkish Turn Rewarded in the Polls

Republicans can take heart from public opinion polling showing that when it comes to dealing with both the economy and national security they have taken a big lead over Democrats, erasing the deficit they had labored under during the last years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib notes: “In the September Journal/NBC News survey, Americans gave Republicans a whopping 18-point advantage, 41% to 23%, as the party better able to handle foreign policy. And Gallup’s new survey found the GOP with a 19-point advantage on handling Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.”

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Republicans can take heart from public opinion polling showing that when it comes to dealing with both the economy and national security they have taken a big lead over Democrats, erasing the deficit they had labored under during the last years of the Bush administration and the early years of the Obama administration. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jerry Seib notes: “In the September Journal/NBC News survey, Americans gave Republicans a whopping 18-point advantage, 41% to 23%, as the party better able to handle foreign policy. And Gallup’s new survey found the GOP with a 19-point advantage on handling Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.”

That swing in public opinion could well deliver the Senate into GOP hands–and it will likely make the next presidential election anything but a cakewalk for Hillary Clinton. But before gloating too much, Republicans should reflect that this swing in public opinion actually has very little to do with them. It’s all about President Obama’s mistakes, which are monumental. Naturally, as ISIS and Vladimir Putin run wild, the public has lost confidence in him and his party. But that doesn’t mean that the GOP is worthy of respect or that the newfound popularity of the Republicans will last long.

Happy Republicans should reflect on how decisively they lost their traditional edge, in particular, on national security issues during the bungled years of President Bush’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Luckily for both Bush and the country, he managed to oversee an impressive recovery in Iraq in 2007-2008 whose gains, unfortunately, have been dissipated by Obama’s pullout–for which the president is now paying a price in the polls.

To sustain public confidence in their national-security credentials it would be helpful for Republicans to have a unified line as they mostly did during the Cold War, at least since Dwight Eisenhower beat Robert Taft (the standard bearer of Midwestern isolationism) in 1952. That kind of unity has been in large part lacking since the Iraq War turned south, with some in the GOP advocating a more interventionist foreign policy while others preached non-interventionism.

The rise of ISIS has temporarily inspired a return to more hawkish attitudes even among neo-isolationists like Rand Paul. But it remains to be seen if this is a passing fad or whether leading Republicans are finally getting serious about embracing their Teddy Roosevelt-Ronald Reagan heritage of global leadership. If Republicans succumb once again to the non-interventionist temptation, as President Obama did, their newfound popularity will not last long. Because if the latest polls show anything, it is that the public demands strong leadership on national security even if it is uncertain about the particulars of this or that policy.

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2014’s Most Cringe-Inducing Moment

Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

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Yesterday when writing about Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s bizarre attempt to avoid admitting that she voted for Barack Obama for president, I expressed the hope that the Democrat and her political consultants would come up with a more coherent answer than her previous attempts to dodge the question. Those hopes were misplaced. At her sole debate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes doubled down on her refusal to say she had voted for Obama. In doing so, she may toss away whatever is left of her own hopes for upsetting her Republican opponent. But she also gave us what is likely to be the most cringe-inducing moment of American politics in 2014 and will, no doubt, give future political historians plenty of fodder for analysis of what makes seemingly smart people do dumb things.

As Fox News’s Chris Stirewalt wrote yesterday, Grimes’ position on her vote for Obama puts her in the running for what he dubbed the Todd Akin Prize for the worst political gaffe of this election cycle. Akin produced a whopper of historic proportions in 2012 when he produced a strange and ignorant theory about rape and pregnancy that not only ensured that he would fail to topple a vulnerable Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race but also hurt Republicans around the nation who suffered from guilt by association with Akin. Stirewalt believes Texas Democrat Wendy Davis is the favorite for the 2014 prize because of her astoundingly bad judgment in releasing an attack ad that drew attention to her opponent’s being confined to a wheelchair. He also gives honorable mention to Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley for mocking the state’s Senator Charles Grassley for only being “an Iowa farmer.”

But I think Grimes has the edge here. Grimes was an Obama-supporting delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But her sanctimonious cant about ballot box privacy after having already said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries is both absurd and an indication that she thinks voters are idiots. Yet it also, like Akin’s gaffe, speaks to a national trend that affects other elections. Like many other Democrats running for office in 2014, Grimes’s biggest problem is the head of her party, not her opponent.

Running away from an unpopular incumbent president is an age-old problem for politicians, but there are ways to finesse the issue. Yet instead of addressing it honestly and saying she voted her principles, Grimes believes not saying the words that everyone knows is the truth (unless, as our John Podhoretz speculated on Twitter yesterday, that she didn’t vote at all!) will be enough to deceive the public. While it may be no more stupid than deriding farmers in Iowa or attacking a man in a wheelchair, it nevertheless made a moment that had to leave even some of her sternest critics feeling embarrassed for her.

What makes supposedly smart people do such stupid things?

We can blame Grimes’s political consultants or her father, a former politician who is widely believed to be the person calling the shots in her campaign. But I think what wins her the Akin Prize is actually the polar opposite of what led to his blunder. Akin blabbed his moronic theory that pregnancy can’t result from a rape because he had such confidence in his beliefs that he didn’t know enough to show some caution when discussing a delicate topic. But Grimes is so afraid of being attacked that she cannot bring herself to admit a fact that is not really in dispute. While Akin showed naïve arrogance as well as stupidity, Grimes demonstrated a lack of guts that is equally fatal. While McConnell is not perfect and had his own difficult moments in last night’s debate when discussing ObamaCare, he can never be accused of lacking the courage of his convictions. If Grimes’s silly willingness to bet her political future on this point induces a degree of pity, we should also be glad if it ensures that the ranks of Senate cowards won’t be increased.

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Democrats Turn On Obama

The Washington Post, in a July 30, 2008 story, reported the following:

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The Washington Post, in a July 30, 2008 story, reported the following:

In his closed door meeting with House Democrats Tuesday night, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama delivered a real zinger, according to a witness, suggesting that he was beginning to believe his own hype.

Obama was waxing lyrical about last week’s trip to Europe, when he concluded, according to the meeting attendee, “this is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world is waiting for.”

The 200,000 souls who thronged to his speech in Berlin came not just for him, he told the enthralled audience of congressional representatives. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” he said, according to the source.

Democrats seem rather less enthralled with Mr. Obama these days. In retrospect, Obama’s ascension to the presidency wasn’t quite the moment the world was waiting for. Increasingly that’s the judgment of Democrats. This year, in fact, Democrats have leveled unusually sharp and damaging charges against the president.

Well into the sixth year of his presidency, then, it’s worth considering not what Republicans but what members of Mr. Obama’s own party, and in some cases former members of his own administration, are saying about him.

* * * *

“But these last two years I think [Obama] kind of lost his way. You know, it’s been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and try to clarify what the role of this country is all about… There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?” – Leon Panetta, secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama, October 6, 2014.

* * * *

“My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military…. Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.” — Panetta, October 1, 2014 (published excerpts from his book Worthy Fights).

* * * *

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won't put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.” — Robert Gates, secretary of defense under President Obama, September 17, 2014.

* * * *

“With all the talk of coming home, of nation building at home, the perception has grown increasingly around the world that the U.S. is pulling back from the global responsibilities that it has shouldered for many decades. I believe Russia and China, among others, see that void and are moving to see what advantage they can take of it.”– Gates, May 21, 2014.

* * * *

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”– Hillary Clinton, secretary of state under President Obama, distancing herself from how President Obama described his foreign policy doctrine, August 10, 2014.

* * * *

“First of all, [the United States under Obama] waited too long. We let the Islamic state build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria. Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn’t object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned.” – Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, October 7, 2014.

* * * *

“For now [Obama] has been reduced to … an isolated political figure who is viewed as a liability to Democrats in the very states where voters by the thousands had once stood to cheer him…. As November nears, Mr. Obama and his loyalists are being forced to reconcile that it is not only Democrats in conservative-leaning states, like Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who are avoiding him…. Even the slightest injection of the Obama brand into this election seems perilous for Democrats.” – “In This Election, Obama’s Party Benches Him”, New York Times, October 7, 2014.

* * * *

“What Democrats told me today is that President Obama, however much they love him, he is an albatross around their necks right now. His poll numbers are so bad, people not feeling good about the state of the economy even if there economic indicators that things are getting better. Wages are stagnant.” – Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent and anchor for CNN, October 8, 2014.

* * * *

“One prominent party strategist said Obama ‘should take a flamethrower to his office. He needs dramatic change — it’s not even a debatable point,’ the strategist said. ‘The general consensus that the president is surrounded by people who do him more harm than good because they are more focused on pleasing him than they are challenging him or proposing a different course.’ Obama has endured a brutal two years since his reelection, with a legislative agenda stalled and his approval ratings in the dumps. On the midterm campaign trail, he’s mostly been persona non grata, with Democratic candidates wishing he’d stay away.” – “Dems want White House shakeup”, The Hill, October 12, 2014.

* * * *

“I respect the sanctity of the ballot box.” – Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic Senate candidate, refusing to say if she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012, October 10, 2014.

* * * *

“It was a mistake.” – David Axelrod, former White House senior adviser, responding to President Obama’s statement, “I’m not on the ballot this fall … but make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.” October 5, 2014.

* * * *

“It is safe to say that Obama has been a huge disappointment. I really don’t think there’s any comparison between him and Bill Clinton. I don’t think we’re even talking about the same universe.” — Kirsten Powers, Democratic political commentator, October 2, 2014.

* * * *

“This administration has been disconnected from the government it’s supposed to be running. They seem to view the federal workforce as hostile territory. They don’t engage with it…. They don’t have a strong system of getting info from the agencies to the president. They keep getting surprised by stuff. And the surprise is almost worse than anything else. It conveys the sense that the White House doesn’t know what its own government is doing.” – Elaine Kamarck, senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore, October 5, 2014.

* * * *

“Even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities…. ‘I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,’ Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. ‘I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.’” – “The Competitor in Chief”, New York Times, September 2, 2012.

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Harry Reid: Still Crazy-Like-A-Fox After All These Years

There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

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There’s an old Jewish joke about Yom Kippur. The shul rabbi, overcome by the need for forgiveness, kneels to the floor and shouts “God, before you I am nothing!” Moved by the scene, the cantor drops to his knees, looks heavenward, and repeats the rabbi’s plea: “God, before you I am nothing!” At that point the synagogue’s shamash, the Jewish caretaker of the building, repeats the spectacle, dropping to his knees, looking at the sky, and exclaiming “God, before you I am nothing!” The cantor nudges the rabbi, motions toward the shamash, and whispers “So look who thinks he’s nothing!”

A couple of recent stories about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought this joke to mind. First, in mid-September, Politico published a story in which Reid was unusually frank about just how pleased he was with himself. He actually wanted–six weeks out from the election–to begin bragging, like a kid who can’t believe how many fireflies he caught in a single jar, that Republicans had begun making “fire Reid” an election-year mantra:

“I’m meaningless,” Reid, a three-decade Hill veteran and the most powerful Democrat in Congress, told POLITICO Thursday. “People in red states don’t even know who I am.”

So look who thinks he’s nothing! But he’s also right, in an important way. Harry Reid has never achieved the kind of name identification that makes him a strategically sound national target, and he knew it. If Republicans are talking about him, instead of, say, President Obama or actual policies, then he’s done his job.

And today’s story in The Hill on Senate Republicans’ grumbling over leadership concerns raises a similar point, only it reveals that Reid has inspired finger pointing among Republicans even though they have the momentum heading into the home stretch of the midterm campaign.

And reading The Hill’s story, it’s easy to feel some pity for the anonymous GOP senator on whom much of the story is based. The senator has basically had the political equivalent of his shoelaces tied together, and since he’s unnamed we can’t even warn him of the imminent meeting between his face and the Senate chamber floor. And the only sound louder than the impending thud will be bellowing laughter of Harry Reid.

Here’s The Hill setting the scene:

If Republicans fall short of expectations this fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could face a leadership challenge.

Republican senators say there is much riding on the Nov. 4 elections for McConnell, who is gunning to become majority leader while also attempting to defeat a well-funded Democratic opponent.

“If we don’t win the majority then all bets are off,” one GOP senator told The Hill when asked whether McConnell could face a leadership race if Republicans remained in the minority in 2015.

The senator, who requested anonymity, said some members of the Senate Republican Conference would call for a re-evaluation of McConnell’s tactics, which the lawmaker described as maintaining total party unity in opposition to the Democratic agenda.

The very next paragraph, however, explains the absurdity of the complaint:

The senator acknowledged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is difficult to work with because he has severely limited the ability of Republicans to offer amendments.

“There’s no question Harry Reid is very tough to deal with, but some of us wonder whether we should have tried to go around him to work with other Democrats,” the senator said.

Conservative critics, on the other hand, argue that McConnell has been too accommodating and has not been fierce enough in waging the battle to repeal ObamaCare or slash federal spending.

Here’s what happened: Harry Reid set a trap, and some Senate Republicans are falling for it. That’s really the crux of the plot here. Between Reid’s reduction of the applicability of the filibuster and his obliteration of Senate norms intended to give the minority some limited role in the democratic process, Reid has made it impossible for Republicans to get what they want and nearly impossible for them to stop Democrats from getting what they want.

Is that unfair? Sure, but welcome to the NFL, kid.

The genius of Reid’s shenanigans is that they only feed the conservative narrative that the Republican leadership is out of step with the party’s grassroots. With midterm elections approaching in which Republicans may actually have a decent shot at reclaiming the upper chamber, this is Reid’s best chance to divide and conquer the Republican caucus so the infighting holds the party back from training all its fire on the other side. Republicans who fall for this–and there appear to be several–are getting played.

And while I don’t know who the anonymous senator is, this strikes me as the kind of mistake common for inexperienced legislators. It reads like a hazing ritual of the Senate, and Reid is taking particular delight in it. Conservatives who truly want to advance a conservative agenda in Congress ought to stop stepping on the rake.

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Dems Prepare for World Without Obama

After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

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After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

Heeding the call of his immense ego rather than the advice of his party’s political consultants, last week President Obama attempted to inject himself into this year’s midterm elections. But the unpopular president’s declaration that his policies, if not his name, was on the ballot in November was remarkable mainly for the fact that it was treated as a major political gaffe rather than as an inspiring call to arms for Democratic activists. This turn of events is a comedown for a man who entered the White House like a messiah but will spend his last years there as a lame duck. But, as the New York Times reports today, the real story here is whether the Obama coalition of young people, unmarried women, minorities, and educated elites that elected him twice is a foundation for his party’s future or something that stopped being relevant after 2012.

The president’s supporters believe he can still play a role in mobilizing key Democratic constituencies. In deep-blue states like Illinois, New York, and California that might be true. But as the president’s poll numbers head south, the idea that the magic of his personality can create a governing majority is no longer viable. With Democratic candidates in battleground states avoiding the unpopular chief executive like the plague, it is increasingly clear that his party is on its own.

It should be remembered that in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections, we were treated to a round of Democratic triumphalism about Obama having changed American politics in a way that gave his party what amounted to a permanent majority for the foreseeable future. That in turn generated a companion wave of Republican pessimism about their inability to win in a changing demographic environment in which minority voters would ensure GOP losses in national elections.

But like all such predictions (remember how George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 was thought to herald a permanent GOP majority?), these analyses failed to take into account that issues, candidates, and circumstances make each election a unique event. The Democrats’ victories were impressive and influenced heavily by the fact that the electorate is less white than it was only a decade ago. But if you take the Obama factor out of the equation, the notion of a permanent hope-and-change coalition seems more like science fiction than political science.

As the Times notes, the president isn’t only less popular among groups that are less inclined to support him but also among those that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories like young people and women. While no one thought that Obama would be anything but a liability to Democrats in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, or Georgia, he’s also being politely asked to keep out of swing states like North Carolina and even light blue states like Michigan. All of which means that this midterm is shaping up as a preview of 2016 when Democrats will try to win a national election without the old Obama magic helping them.

One Democratic answer centers on their past and their likely 2016 nominee: the Clintons. Hillary Clinton will have her own coalition to build and can certainly count on enthusiasm for what may be our first major-party female candidate for president. But as much as Democrats in states like Arkansas are happy to welcome her husband in to help bolster their tickets, it may be too much to ask even of Bill Clinton to expect him to save incumbents like Mark Prior.

Without the Obama personality cult boosting Democratic turnout, they will have to fall back on their technological edge in turnout and organization. Yet in the end each election is decided more on the names on the ballots than anything else. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ shaky incumbents and weak bench is strong enough to build on what Obama accomplished. But those who are counting on the same sort of enthusiasm fueling future Democratic campaigns need to explain who, in the absence of a charismatic leader, can give a reason for voters to heed the social networking appeals and other strategies that have worked so well for them in the recent past.

A world without Obama is terra incognita for a Democratic Party that must prove it can win a victory without the aid of a boogeyman like George W. Bush or a hope-and-change messiah. Moreover, eight years of a largely failed presidency has altered the political landscape just as much as the changing demographics. Next month we will get the first indication whether Democrats are equipped to deal with that dilemma. If the polls that currently give the GOP an edge are any indication, they might not like the answer.

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Obama Writes His Own Ballot Epitaph

The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

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The debate continued today over whether President Obama made a colossal gaffe when he said last week that while he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. Even though former Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted this was a mistake, White House spokesman Josh Earnest loyally claimed the statement wouldn’t hurt Democrats. But like most of Earnest’s duties rationalizing, excusing, or downright lying about the administration’s failures, the official party line was unpersuasive. But now that Republicans are starting to put the video clip to good use, the pertinent question are not about its wisdom but concern just how much damage it will do in close Senate races and whether it will serve as a fitting epitaph for a failed presidency.

The irony about the president’s challenge is that his party’s best, if not only chance to hang onto the Senate this year rested in the ability of Democrats or even independents like Kansan Greg Orman to distance themselves from Obama. That’s a task that some members of his party are finding easier than others.

North Carolina’s Kay Hagan has spent much of the last year trying to point out her differences with the president and making her reelection fight a referendum on the record of her GOP opponent Thom Tillis, the speaker of the unpopular North Carolina legislature. To the extent that other Democrats like Colorado’s Mark Udall, Arkansas’s Mark Prior, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, and Alaska’s Mark Begich have given themselves a fighting chance in their uphill reelection fights it was by playing the same “I’m not Obama” card. That also applies to those Democratic challengers like Georgia’s Michelle Nunn and Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes who have a chance to knock off Republican opponents.

As for the nominally independent Orman, as Seth noted earlier today, his likely victory is based on the notion that the midterms will be about Senator Pat Roberts’ desultory record and not whether the GOP needs to be given the Senate in order to thwart the Democrats’ plans.

It is true that the Republicans have been trying to make the president the central issue in the campaign all along with middling success. In the second term of a presidency, the midterm inevitably revolves around the incumbent in the White House and his policies. But midterms are by their very definition statewide contests and not national elections. And if there has been any consistent theme sounded by liberal pundits it is that the GOP has clearly failed to make issues closely associated with the president such as ObamaCare central to the contest this fall. But with one stray ill-considered line, Obama may have tossed away his party’s key advantage.

Will this prove decisive? The extent of the damage may be more than Democrats will currently admit. In 2012 Mitt Romney carried all of the states where battleground contests are being fought. The last thing Kay Hagan or any other Democrat needed this year was a reminder that the president thinks the election is all about him and not a Democrat who keeps telling the voters that they are not named Barack Obama. A month is a lifetime in politics and it may seem that long to Democratic incumbents who will be forced to endure endless repetitions of the Obama clip in their opponents’ campaign ads.

But rather than attempting to estimate the carnage this foolish remark will cause for his supporters, perhaps the better question to ask is why he did it. About that there doesn’t seem much room for debate.

The defining characteristic of this presidency remains the arrogance of Barack Obama. Having come into office on the strength of a campaign that presented him as not merely a breath of fresh air but as a messiah who could turn back the oceans and renew American society, the president’s inflated opinion of his abilities and his appeal is hardly surprising. Nor after two elections won on the strength of his personal appeal is it at all astonishing that he would think injecting himself into the midterms would be to his party’s advantage.

But along with the self-assurance that comes with two presidential victories is the reality that the Obama White House remains an echo chamber where bad news or telling the truth about the president’s mistakes are not welcome. In the same bubble where it is OK for Obama to blame the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS when it was he who would make that error despite his advisors warning him of the danger, the news about the president’s staggering unpopularity in his second term has also not penetrated the commander-in-chief’s inner sanctum.

But even if some are telling our emperor–who believes he can govern without the consent of Congress on issues like immigration and is arrogant enough to warn the voters he will do just that after they are done casting their ballots—that he has no clothes, this is not a man who is likely to listen to such advice. If he has lengthened what was almost certainly going to be a longer than average lame duck period of his presidency with last week’s statement, it is in a way fitting that this should happen as a result of his outsized ego rather than anything else.

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Obama Deportation Pledge Is Dem Dilemma

When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

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When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

No matter where you come down on the issue of immigration reform, the president’s plans to effectively nullify existing laws by executive fiat and allow millions of people to stay who might otherwise be deported is an egregious abuse of power. Those who want Congress to act to repair the country’s broken immigration system may well criticize the House of Representatives for failing to either pass the bipartisan comprehensive reform bill produced by the Senate or to move their own bill or bills. But their decision to hold off on such legislation does not entitle the president to act as if he can govern on his own without congressional consent.

But that is exactly what his restive Hispanic supporters have been demanding that he do for the last six years. Democrats need Hispanic voters to vote this fall in something like the same huge numbers that turned out for the president in 2012 in order to have a shot at holding on to the Senate. But many who blame the president for the high number of deportations of illegals that have been carried out on his watch have lost patience and see no reason to flock to the polls. That’s especially true in states where Democrats have opposed unilateral action by the president because they understand just how unpopular such moves are with most voters.

So in order to convince Hispanics to be good soldiers in the Democrat army, he is promising again that he will trash the rule of law and stop the deportations once the midterms are over. But the irony is that one of the Democrats most in need of those Hispanic voters not only opposed the president’s executive orders but also has demanded that he not use them even after November. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is one of the few embattled Democrats fighting for reelection this year that are still favored to win. But the more the president talks about overturning the laws and allowing millions of illegals to evade deportation, the worse her chances of holding onto a slim lead over Republican Thom Tillis look. Nor, even after Obama’s latest promises, is it likely that Hispanics will feel very enthusiastic about backing Hagan.

It should be understood that while a majority of Americans understand that the immigration system needs to be fixed and a solution found for the more than 11 million people who are already here illegally, they are not sanguine about measures that may invite even more illegal immigration in the future. The crisis at the Texas border this past summer highlighted the fact that reform efforts and the president’s statements have helped create a new surge of illegals. That has changed the debate about the issue in a way that places the president’s threats of unilateral action directly contrary to the will of the public and the Constitution.

The pledge to stop the deportations makes sense if the Democrats’ priority this year was to energize their base of minority voters. But the midterms are largely being fought in swing or red states where Republicans can just as easily batter their opponents by speaking of what the president has said he will do as they can by criticizing what he has already done. The GOP record on immigration isn’t good and ultimately they need to find a response to the issue that speaks of more than border security if they ever hope to make a dent in the Hispanic vote. But if Democrats think they can hold Congress by Obama acting in a manner that may well set off an even greater surge of illegals that will also hope to be eventually granted amnesty, they are mistaken.

The president’s plans undermine the rule of law while not really fixing the problem. But the more he talks about this sensitive issue, the more harm he is doing to the cause of his party.

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Faltering Obama Still Blaming Messenger

Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

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Fox News may be demolishing its more liberal cable news rivals in the ratings but to Democrats it’s still the bogeyman. That’s why President Obama took the opportunity to criticize the network during a speech defending his economic record at Northwestern University today. But in doing so, the president not only demonstrated the weakness of his position but also why he doesn’t understand Fox’s appeal.

During his speech, the president said this about Fox and its audience:

A true opposition party should have the courage to lay out their agenda. Hopefully also grounded in facts. There’s a reason fewer Republicans are preaching doom on the deficits – because the deficits have come down at almost a record pace and they’re now manageable. There’s a reason fewer are running against ObamaCare – because while good, affordable health care might still be a fanged threat to freedom of the American people on Fox News, it turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world.

There’s a lot to unwrap in just one paragraph but let’s try to hit the major points.

First, the notion that Republicans are not running on their party’s principles on spending, taxes, and the deficit is the sort of thing only a person living inside the White House echo chamber could believe. Across the country, GOP candidates are doing just that as they continue to capitalize on the voters’ disillusionment with the president’s liberal agenda and failed leadership.

Though, due to the faltering economy and the nation’s focus on the president’s foreign-policy failures, ObamaCare is not as potent an issue this fall as it was in the past, he’s kidding himself if he thinks it is going away. As I noted yesterday, successful court challenges will ensure that it remains on the agenda in the coming year. And if the courts don’t eviscerate the law, skyrocketing insurance costs and the possibly devastating impact on employment as the employer mandate goes into effect will put it back on the national agenda.

If anybody is running away from their party and its leader this year, it’s Democrats. Most Democrats locked in tough fights are not only avoiding Obama like the plague; they are also denying any connection to him. In what may be a new low point of embarrassment for the Democrats, Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to answer when repeatedly asked if she had voted for the president’s reelection in 2012.

But let’s forget about the specifics of the president’s boasts about the economy or his faux confidence on the staying power of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. Instead, let’s contemplate the dismaying spectacle of a sitting president of the United States obsessing about a cable network and treating it and its audience as if they were his enemy.

As Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts of Fox’s The Five program quipped in response: “He [Obama] bashes FNC [Fox News Channel] more than ISIS, and we don’t behead anybody.” But jokes aside, the president’s continuing obsession with Fox is itself an interesting commentary on his disconnect with much of the nation.

The difference between Fox’s coverage of ObamaCare and that of much of the mainstream media is not so much that the network portrays ObamaCare as a “fanged threat to freedom” but that on MSNBC and CNN, not to mention the broadcast networks and the New York Times, critiques of the law or even discussions about its effectiveness, its impact on the economy, or on individual rights are often hard to find. Fox has become the dominant cable news network not so much because it is conservative as because it is the one place viewers know they can go to find alternative views to that of the liberal media establishment that has so often acted as the president’s unpaid cheering section.

The president may get a laugh from his liberal base and media sycophants when he attacks Fox but every time he does so he only betrays his weakness and his lack of comfort with opposing views. As his party heads toward a disastrous midterm defeat that will officially seal his fate as a powerless lame duck, the president would do better to stop blaming the media messengers and start pondering his own failures.

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Dem Senate Comeback May Be Fool’s Gold

Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

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Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

The need to frame the midterms in terms of a wave is understandable. Journalists love a story that they can wrap up in a neat unifying package that explains everything. That’s why so many political pundits are so eager to try to interpret any national election—even a congressional midterm which is really dozens if not hundreds of separate races piled together—through a single lens. The problem is that even when such elections produce a big victory for either party, the reason for all these results often is more the product of a host of local factors rather than a national tide sweeping the nation.

That’s an important lesson for pundits to remember in 2014. Within the last couple of days, the New York Times’s Upshot, the Washington Post’s The Fix, and Nate Silver’s Five-Thirty-Eight all reversed their previous findings showing the GOP as the big favorite to take the Senate and now say it is a tossup. They didn’t agree as to the reason for this momentum swing. Silver believes the decisive factor is a Democratic edge in campaign fundraising with liberal and Democratic Super PACs outspending conservative and Republican ones. He may be right about that. Now that the campaign has begun in earnest, Democrats are using their considerable resources, with the aid of their reliable cheering section in the mainstream press, to paint GOP opponents as either extremists (as they are trying to do to Joni Ernst in Iowa) or sexist fools (as they seem to have done with Thom Tillis in North Carolina who is still dealing with the “mansplaining” charge lodged against him).

Moreover, the more you break down the 2014 races, the more apparent that national trends can be irrelevant to Senate races. That’s certainly true in deep-red Kansas where incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts finds himself in deep trouble because he is considered out of touch with a state that he doesn’t live in much anymore. The willingness of his Democratic opponent to pull out of the state in favor of a Democrat-leaning independent has transformed Kansas from a GOP lock to a possible loss.

Indeed, as much as money, political pragmatism seems to be the best weapon in the Democrat arsenal this year. Wherever Democrats are doing better or holding their own, it is largely because they are seeking to distance themselves from both President Obama and the national Democratic Party. Both North Carolina incumbent Kay Hagan and Georgia challenger Michelle Nunn have been adept in fleeing the president’s embrace. Viewed in isolation, these races not only confound any thought of a Republican midterm wave but also remind us that elections are principally decided on the basis of the ability of the candidates more than the party labels they wear.

But even if we concede that the last week has provided a great deal of comfort for Democrats, they shouldn’t get too cocky. As the party in charge of the White House, they are still laboring under tremendous disadvantages this fall that provide their GOP opponents with a safety net that could cushion the impact of any surge in Democrat fundraising as a result of these new more favorable predictions. National surveys, such as the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, show President Obama’s job approval ratings still heading south. Just as important, Republicans are gaining crucial advantages with the public on the economy, foreign policy, terrorism, and immigration.

While those who would extrapolate from these numbers the seeds of a genuine Republican wave are probably exaggerating the impact of national polls on local races, the Democrats are still dealing with some very unfavorable electoral math. In order to hold the Senate, they need to take one or two Republican seats (Kansas and Georgia representing their best chances), preserve the seats of one or two of their endangered red-state incumbents (North Carolina’s Hagan being their best chance of that), win some of the tossup states like Iowa, while also avoiding losing any of the seats that they thought were not endangered like that of New Hampshire’s Jean Shaheen.

Is that doable? Yes. Is it likely? The answer here is still no.

As much as the outlook has brightened for Democrats, Stuart Rothenberg’s prediction last week that Republicans will win at least 7 seats and possible more is still the more reasonable conclusion about an electoral map and a national political atmosphere that is heavily slanted toward the GOP. Democrats may be able to stop the bleeding and stay competitive by constantly reminding voters that their name isn’t Barack Obama. But doing so also reminds the electorate why midterms trend against the party in power.

Even more to the point, unlike in the past when Republicans came up short in efforts to win back the Senate, this time they don’t appear to be burdened with a roster of terrible candidates. Weak incumbents like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mark Prior in Arkansas might have survived against equally weak challengers but they didn’t get that lucky. And strong GOP candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire have put seats in play that many thought to be safe for the Democrats.

So while the pundits should forget about waves, the notion of a big Democrat comeback may be more a case of them finding fool’s gold than a real path to victory in November.

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Obama’s Immigration Stall Fooling No One

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

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Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

As Politico reports, some Democrats are demanding that the president go farther and promise not to issue any executive orders that would unilaterally transform our immigration system even after the congressional vote. In particular, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has asked that the president make it clear that the postponement of his plans be made permanent. Angus King of Maine, an independent that caucuses with the Democrats agrees and he isn’t even running for reelection this year.

The reason for their concerns can be seen in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out earlier this week that showed the public now trusts Republicans to deal more effectively with immigration than Democrats by a 35 to 27 percent margin. That’s a startling reverse of the numbers in the same poll on this issue from last December when Democrats had a 31-26 percent edge. The jump in the GOP numbers can be attributed to the surge of illegal immigrants across the Texas border as a result of the belief that the president would offer amnesty to illegals soon.

Last year’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that sought to both offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here and to tighten security at the border may have been popular. But in the wake of this summer fiasco on the Rio Grande, conservative arguments that the border must be fixed before a solution for the illegals now makes a great deal of sense.

Even more importantly, outside of Hispanic activists who have been clamoring for Obama to use executive orders to unilaterally change the law without the consent of Congress, even Democrats are very uncomfortable with the notion of Obama running roughshod over the Constitution to deal with immigration.

Even worse, as Hagan’s public fears make clear, no one was fooled by Obama’s transparently political motives for postponing his planned moves. Merely putting off the decision until after the election hasn’t defused the issue for those who are rightly upset about the president’s power grab. Conservatives were already more energized about this election than liberals but the possibility that the president will ignore the will of Congress and try to govern without its consent is exactly the sort of issue that will drive the GOP base to the polls. By contrast, the president’s punt will likely depress his liberal base especially as Hispanics are disappointed by Obama’s broken promise after so much hype about the plan over the summer.

Even as most of her southern Democratic colleagues are losing ground in the polls, Hagan got a boost in the polls last week as a result of a strong debate performance against GOP opponent Thom Tillis. But the race is still very close and Hagan knows it might will turn on the possibility that Obama will seek to thwart the Constitution and act on his own to grant millions of illegals a path to legalization if not citizenship. It could also potentially doom any hope of getting enough Republicans to vote for an immigration reform bill at some point in the future because distrust of the president is so intense.

It may be that Obama’s desire to bypass Congress and do as he likes may be sufficiently high that he will refuse to disavow acting on his own. That would be in character for a president who acts at times as if he is allergic to cooperating with the legislative branch. But if he continues to threaten to act in this manner, his party may pay a high price.

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‘Mansplaining’ Dumbs Down Dems’ Fake War on Women

The latest round of polling from Senate races around the country provides Democrats desperate to hold onto control of the Upper House with little comfort. Not only are they falling behind more states than they are holding their own, but their iron grip on women voters may not be as firm as they thought. But even as their candidates are failing, the effort to claim Republicans are waging a “war on women” continues. The only problem is that in at least one crucial race, they seem to be grasping at straws.

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The latest round of polling from Senate races around the country provides Democrats desperate to hold onto control of the Upper House with little comfort. Not only are they falling behind more states than they are holding their own, but their iron grip on women voters may not be as firm as they thought. But even as their candidates are failing, the effort to claim Republicans are waging a “war on women” continues. The only problem is that in at least one crucial race, they seem to be grasping at straws.

That’s the only explanation for the attempt to paint the GOP’s North Carolina Senate challenger Thom Tillis as having spoken in a chauvinist manner during his debate with incumbent Kay Hagan. The evidence for this claim is tissue thin. It consists of him addressing the senator by her first name rather than referring to her by her title even as she called him “Speaker Tillis” (he is speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives). Not satisfied with this, they are claiming a Tillis ad that claims “math is lost on Sen. Hagan” (which references her numerous claims that consumers could keep their insurance if they liked it under ObamaCare) is also condescending and an insult to women in general.

Petty complaints of this sort are more partisan talking points than a genuine wedge issue for female voters. But that didn’t stop Politico from giving them further weight by devoting a story to the issue and by giving Tillis’s allegedly insensitive behavior a name: “mansplaining.”

I’m not exactly sure what the terms is supposed to mean here. Nor, judging by the superficial nature of the story, does anyone at Politico. But since they don’t appear to be quoting even the most partisan Democrat in using the word, it appears to be a term with which they were determined to label Tillis.

In the past, when GOP politicians were caught in genuine gaffes that fueled Democratic allegations of a war on women, such as Rep. Todd Akin’s idiotic comment about rape and abortion, there was at least something embarrassing for liberals to hang their hats on. But this time around, they are reduced to jumping on nonsense like the use of a first name to buttress their fading narrative, even if even Politico was prepared to note that President Obama and Vice President Biden both did the same thing to Hillary Clinton in their 2008 primary debates with their female opponent.

Why is this necessary? Perhaps because in several battleground states, the gender gap that is supposed to be the Democrats’ ace in the hole isn’t proving to be as powerful a factor as they hoped. In North Carolina for example, the New York Times/CBS News/YouGov poll shows Hagen with a 43-31 percent lead among female voters. That’s an advantage, but it is more than offset by Tillis’s 50-36 percent lead among male voters. Instead of gender providing Democrats with a weapon to win any race, it appears to be a double-edged sword that is as much a hindrance as it is help.

In one of the other key battleground Senate races involving a female candidate, the Democrat’s gender gap advantage has completely disappeared. In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has only a 41-36 percent lead among women. But she trails Minority Leader Mitch McConnell by 47-34 percent among men. The same pattern appears in Arkansas where Democratic incumbent Mark Prior leads Republican Tom Cotton by only a 35-30 percent margin among women. But he trails the Republican 49-36 percent among men. Almost identical figures are to be found in the Alaska race between Democratic Senator Mark Begich and Republican Daniel Sullivan. It’s little wonder that the Republicans are leading in all four of these crucial senate races.

The only conclusion to be drawn from these figures and the Democrats’ desperate tactics is that in the absence of a genuine gaffe that the media can hype and thereby tag all Republicans as misogynists, liberals are left scrounging for material that isn’t quite ready for prime time. Whereas in 2012, foolish GOP candidates gave some false credence to the war on women meme, in 2014, Democrats are reduced to dumbing it down or attempting to falsely spin the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision defending religious freedom as an attempt to ban contraception.

While there is still plenty of time for dumb Republicans to rescue the Democrats once again, the current polling seems to show that weak stuff like the “mansplaining” charge against Tillis won’t be enough to save the Senate for President Obama’s party.

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Gerrymandering Myths and the Midterms

Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

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Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

Last year, President Obama sat down for an “interview” with his campaign donor, New Republic owner Chris Hughes. During the course of their conversation, the president complained that gerrymandering was behind the political polarization of Congress. I pointed out that, according to political scientist John Sides, who had run the numbers, this was just not true.

But the more basic complaint is less about how Republicans vote when they get to Congress and more about how they get there in the first place. Some, such as the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, still argue, against reality, that Republicans owe their House majority to “extreme gerrymandering,” in Krugman’s words. (Presumably “extreme gerrymandering” is the act of redrawing congressional districts while water skiing, or some such.) But this weekend Krugman’s Times colleague, Nate Cohn, took to the paper’s “Upshot” section to pour more cold water on the complaint.

Cohn writes:

Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that’s not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.

In presidential races, Democrats used to win by expanding their appeal beyond urban areas, particularly in the South, but Mr. Obama took a different path to victory in 2008 and 2012. He won the nation’s largest cities with more than 80 percent of the vote — margins that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson could only have dreamed of. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, didn’t win the countryside as decisively as Mr. Obama won the big cities.

The gap between staggering Democratic margins in cities and the somewhat smaller Republican margins in the rest of the country allows Democrats to win key states in presidential and Senate elections, like Florida and Michigan. But the expanded Democratic margins in metropolitan areas are all but wasted in the House, since most of these urban districts already voted for Democrats. The result is that Democrats have built national and statewide majorities by making Democratic-leaning congressional districts even more Democratic, not by winning new areas that might turn congressional districts from red to blue.

What about gerrymandering? Certainly it helps Republicans some. Can it be quantified? Cohn cites a couple political scientists who tried:

The political scientists Jowei Chen, of the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, of Stanford University, estimate that gerrymandering costs Democrats about six to eight seats in the House. Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

Offsetting the gerrymandering–something both parties do–wouldn’t deliver Democrats the House. What would? Well, here is where it gets interesting. The Democrats, it turns out, are at least partly to blame for this situation. (Perhaps that explains why they cling so desperately to the gerrymandering argument.)

As Cohn explained, the Obama-era Democrats have been successful at the national level because they have pressed their geographic advantage into larger vote margins. To do that, they’ve followed a very smart playbook–but one with a downside. The Democrats nationally have pushed liberal base issues, such as social issues like the fabricated war on women and restrictions on gun rights, among others. In other words, Obama and the Democrats have moved to the left.

This was fairly obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in the ridiculous idea of Obama as some kind of centrist or pragmatist. But it alienates voters not typically in the geographical liberal strongholds. Obama’s astute, successful campaign strategy was very good for Democrats on a national level and even at times at the state level (though the GOP has made a strong showing in gubernatorial races). But it was very bad for Democrats on a local, district-by-district level.

It was a tradeoff, and one Democrats would almost certainly believe was worth it. But now they’ve decided to complain, in a very liberal style, that there need be no tradeoffs in the real world; they want it, and if they don’t get it they must have been cheated out of it.

There’s one additional element to this as well. As Jonathan Tobin argued here last year, the Democratic complaints about the Supreme Court’s decision that Congress must revise part of the Voting Rights Act were ironic. After all that law, strictly enforced, translates into the creation and maintenance of a number of majority-minority districts. That means these minority voters, traditionally supporters of Democratic candidates, get drained from other districts to make up VRA-compliant districts. That benefits Republicans in nearby districts, but it’s Democrats who demand the law continue as it is.

So Democrats are at a disadvantage in the House. But it’s a geographic disadvantage mostly of their own making.

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