Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

King Shows Dems’ Senate Hopes Fading

Since his election as a nominal independent in 2012, Maine Senator Angus King has been a reliable vote for the Democrats, with whom he has chosen to caucus. Considering that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee actively worked for the former governor and against the nominal candidate from its own party, King’s independence seemed to be more a figure of speech than an actual political stance. But with Democratic control of the Senate very much in question this November, it turns out Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t depend on him as much as perhaps he thought he could. As The Hill reports, King is now making it clear that his vote will be very much up for grabs in January when the next Congress meets and that he will go with whichever party is in the majority.

The best indication that King is beginning to shore up his ties with the GOP Senate caucus came yesterday when he was the only member of the Senate to cross party lines on the vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The vote on the bill was a Democratic ploy intended to embarrass GOP senators who could be depicted as voting against gender equality. The legislation did nothing to correct inequities that existing laws don’t already account for and its substance was largely a gift to trial lawyers, a key element in Democratic fundraising. But King wouldn’t play along and voted no along with all of the GOP senators (Reid also voted no as a procedural tactic so he could resurrect the bill at some point in the future). While no one should assume that King is turning his coat before he has to, his decision to defy the Democrats on this issue was perhaps a declaration of real independence from the party with which he has associated himself since taking office. More than anything it is a sign that the proverbial rats are leaving the Democrats’ Senate ship before it sinks.

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Since his election as a nominal independent in 2012, Maine Senator Angus King has been a reliable vote for the Democrats, with whom he has chosen to caucus. Considering that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee actively worked for the former governor and against the nominal candidate from its own party, King’s independence seemed to be more a figure of speech than an actual political stance. But with Democratic control of the Senate very much in question this November, it turns out Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t depend on him as much as perhaps he thought he could. As The Hill reports, King is now making it clear that his vote will be very much up for grabs in January when the next Congress meets and that he will go with whichever party is in the majority.

The best indication that King is beginning to shore up his ties with the GOP Senate caucus came yesterday when he was the only member of the Senate to cross party lines on the vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. The vote on the bill was a Democratic ploy intended to embarrass GOP senators who could be depicted as voting against gender equality. The legislation did nothing to correct inequities that existing laws don’t already account for and its substance was largely a gift to trial lawyers, a key element in Democratic fundraising. But King wouldn’t play along and voted no along with all of the GOP senators (Reid also voted no as a procedural tactic so he could resurrect the bill at some point in the future). While no one should assume that King is turning his coat before he has to, his decision to defy the Democrats on this issue was perhaps a declaration of real independence from the party with which he has associated himself since taking office. More than anything it is a sign that the proverbial rats are leaving the Democrats’ Senate ship before it sinks.

That King is primarily in business for himself is not in question. Though he described any move he makes as being in the interests of his state, it should be taken as a given that his desk will be on the side of the Senate chamber where the majority sits regardless of who wins the midterms. That means that if the Democrats somehow hold onto their majority even by the most slender of margins, he will stay put. But if the Republicans get the six seats they need for a 51-49 majority, it will almost certainly become 52-48 in their favor provided that they pay whatever price King demands in terms of committee assignments and anything else he can think of.

But what would really be interesting is if the GOP only gains 5 seats and the midterms produce a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Up until now, the assumption has been that would leave Reid as majority leader since Vice President Biden would cast the deciding vote in favor of the Democrats when the Senate organizes in January. But such a result would also give King the opportunity to bargain with both sides. The competition for his services would be as unseemly as it would be costly. But given the cynical way he has approached the question of his party affiliation, who can doubt that the bidding will produce a wild auction with King the big winner?

If one takes into account the possibility that the close race in Louisiana where Democrat Mary Landrieu is in trouble may lead to a runoff in December if neither the incumbent nor her Republican challenger gets 50 percent of the vote, the there’s a good chance we won’t know who will be running the Senate until weeks after election day. But the fact that King is already sending signals that he will put himself up for auction is a very bad sign for the Democrats who have been counting on him.

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Paycheck Pander All About Trial Lawyers

Senate Democrats are following up on the White House “Equal Pay Day” dog and pony show yesterday with another push designed to highlight their supposed concern for the plight of female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act that was put to a vote today had no more chance of passage than it did when it was last introduced before the 2012 election. But as it did that previous time, Democrats are hoping that it will serve to feed their fake “war on women” theme that has helped them gain an advantage with female voters while also helping to distract voters from the president’s second term blues and discontent about the implementation of ObamaCare.

Republicans who underestimate the potential impact of this strategy are making a mistake but GOP senators are right not to take the bait. As tempting as it might have been to let this legislation pass in order to undermine the Democrats’ blatantly political motivations, they were right to hold the line on the bill. Just as “Equal Pay Day” attempts to hype an issue based on misleading statistics, the Paycheck Fairness Act does nothing to address the problem of gender discrimination. Even worse, though it is easily understood as a ploy to solidify female support for President Obama’s party, it is even more of a pander toward one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party: the trial lawyers. The law is geared not so much to address inequality as to make it easy to sue businesses for discrimination without proof. While it’s an open question as to whether these maneuvers may save the Democrats in the midterm elections, allowing this bill to pass would result in a windfall for trial lawyers.

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Senate Democrats are following up on the White House “Equal Pay Day” dog and pony show yesterday with another push designed to highlight their supposed concern for the plight of female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act that was put to a vote today had no more chance of passage than it did when it was last introduced before the 2012 election. But as it did that previous time, Democrats are hoping that it will serve to feed their fake “war on women” theme that has helped them gain an advantage with female voters while also helping to distract voters from the president’s second term blues and discontent about the implementation of ObamaCare.

Republicans who underestimate the potential impact of this strategy are making a mistake but GOP senators are right not to take the bait. As tempting as it might have been to let this legislation pass in order to undermine the Democrats’ blatantly political motivations, they were right to hold the line on the bill. Just as “Equal Pay Day” attempts to hype an issue based on misleading statistics, the Paycheck Fairness Act does nothing to address the problem of gender discrimination. Even worse, though it is easily understood as a ploy to solidify female support for President Obama’s party, it is even more of a pander toward one of the mainstays of the Democratic Party: the trial lawyers. The law is geared not so much to address inequality as to make it easy to sue businesses for discrimination without proof. While it’s an open question as to whether these maneuvers may save the Democrats in the midterm elections, allowing this bill to pass would result in a windfall for trial lawyers.

The problem for Republicans is that even though the facts are on their side when it comes to the debate about gender pay discrimination, the emotional advantage is with the president and his followers. It doesn’t matter that the president’s constant spouting of figures that show that women make only 77 percent of what men earn is completely disingenuous. The number is accurate but the differences are accounted for by factors such as job choices, education and the fact that women often choose to take years off from work to raise families and often seek greater flexibility in hours worked than men. The same factors account for the fact that women who work in the White House make less on average than the men there. Yet the White House says the same justifications for its policies don’t apply everywhere else. The reason they can get away with it is that while the numbers are misleading, most women justifiably sense that they are not always treated fairly by men. Thus, to say, as the GOP has been forced to, against laws that won’t help anyone but lawyers, puts them in the position of seeming like a party of vintage male chauvinist pigs.

Republicans rightly argue that the law of the land already forbids gender discrimination. But claiming that even more legislation won’t help things isn’t as persuasive as Obama’s emotional pleas for more fairness. Yet the problem with the Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just that it is superfluous, it’s that it creates a legal environment in which bogus claims of discrimination can cause havoc in the business world. According to its terms, the burden of proof in such cases will be on the employers to show that they haven’t discriminated rather than on the plaintiffs to prove they have been victimized. This will not only be a gold mine for ambulance-chasing trial lawyers looking to shake down companies with settlements rather than be put through the cost and the agony of a trial but will also discourage merit pay and flexibility in hiring and hours worked — developments that will materially harm hard-working women.

This is a bridge too far for even those female Republican senators who backed past discrimination bills. They know this is simply a payoff to the trial lawyers as well as a transparent political gesture intended to put the GOP on record as opposing an equal pay bill even though such an assertion is a gross distortion of the facts. Standing up for principle is not without cost. News cycles in which talk of gender discrimination and GOP votes against such bills do feed the “war on women” propaganda being spouted on the networks and contribute the the false notion that the Democrats care more about women. Thus, Republicans must reconcile themselves to being hurt by the issue and hope that, in the long run, the truth about the issue will filter out enough to mitigate the damage and allow them to stay on message about ObamaCare and the president’s failed leadership.

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Obama TD Dance a Poor Strategy for Dems

The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

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The White House is claiming that President Obama’s celebratory speech this afternoon in the Rose Garden was not a “victory lap” but it was clear to everyone who watched the address that it was more of a touchdown dance than a sober evaluation of the implementation of his signature health care law. Given the mistake-filled rollout of ObamaCare, the fact that the numbers reported by the government indicated that it had exceeded the seven million goal that had been set as the goal for the open enrollment period, the administration felt it had good reason to spike the ball and that’s exactly what the president did.

But in doing so, the president not only misrepresented the nature of what had actually been accomplished, he also mischaracterized the nature and the extent of the opposition to the law. Though their ability to tout the enrollment numbers made for probably the best 24-hour news cycle for ObamaCare that it’s had in years, nothing he said changed the fact that as many Americans have reason to dislike the plan as those who are benefitting from it. While the president boldly proclaimed that the misnamed Affordable Care Act “was here to stay” and that the debate is over, if he thinks Democrats are going to take his cue and spend 2014 running on ObamaCare rather than away from it, he’s mistaken.

Inside the bubble in which the president lives, it’s possible to pretend that the problems causing job losses and individual hardships are Republican hoaxes that have been “debunked.” But the basic problem with the health care law remains. Unlike other landmark pieces of legislation like Social Security and Medicare that became untouchable once they were implemented, ObamaCare has created a vast class of people who have been hurt by it.

Though undoubtedly many people with pre-existing conditions or in poverty are now eligible for coverage they didn’t have before — something that conservative critics must take into account as they propose alternatives. But they are offset by those who have lost existing coverage and are now either out of luck altogether or forced to accept more expensive plans that are not to their liking. Even more are or will soon be forced to give up their existing doctors because of the chaos created by the new scheme.  As we noted again yesterday, the enrollment numbers announced today are anything but reliable. With at least 20 percent of those claimed as signed up yet to pay for their coverage and with many likely never to do so, the seven million number is a vast exaggeration. Nor is there much evidence for the notion that those included in that total were not previously covered by other kinds of insurance.

Moreover, Americans are not stupid. They understand that some of the greatest problems are yet to come because of the delays in implementing those parts of the law that are most problematic such as the employer mandates that will hurt employment and thrust millions of Americans out of better plans to the ones that ObamaCare forces them into.

But it must also be noted that what is most disconcerting about Obama’s arguments is not his blind faith in the value of what he has accomplished as the arrogant contempt for critics that he displays. For Obama, those who continue to oppose this government power grab that has hurt our health care system more than it helps are simply opposed to helping people in need. He is not so much in disagreement with their reasoned arguments or the many examples of those who have been hurt by ObamaCare as he simply thinks his opponents are liars are out to victimize the poor and the sick. His self-regard is matched only by his dishonestly and his desire to demonize those who oppose his plans.

Buy while this is the sort of speech that plays well to hand picked crowds of sycophants, it won’t play as well on the campaign trail this year in swing or red states where Senate seats are at stake. The White House may be urging his party to follow his lead and double down on a law that has always been opposed by most Americans. But that has more to do with Obama seeking to burnish his legacy than the survival of endangered Democrats. Their “fix it, don’t nix it” approach to the issue is already a difficult sell outside of deep blue strongholds. Embracing the president’s stand would be nothing short of a suicide run for any Democrat in trouble. Obama may think the debate is over but what he will find out before the year is over is that it is only getting started.

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GOP Playing to Win in 2014

In both 2010 and 2012, Republicans threw away golden opportunities to take control of the Senate by nominating outlier candidates that turned likely victories into defeats. The most prominent examples, such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and Missouri’s Todd Akin, illustrated not only how gaffe-ridden politicians could transform unpopular Democratic incumbents into winners but also the profound lack of seriousness on the part of many in the GOP. This kept Harry Reid in office (thanks to Angle) and in charge of the Senate. But it appears that not only have the issues and President Obama’s job performance put the Democrats in a tough position heading into the midterms, but that this year Republicans are behaving as if they are more interested in winning than in ideological purity or pursuing grudges.

The best example of this comes from Colorado where Democrat Mark Udall is up for reelection to his Senate seat. Udall, who was swept in on Obama’s coattails in the 2008 “hope and change” wave, was not thought to be among the most vulnerable Democrats this year. Demographic changes have transformed Colorado into a purple or light blue state in presidential elections. But it is still highly competitive with strong conservative tendencies, especially on issues like gun control, as two Democratic state senators discovered last fall when they were recalled after passing more stringent gun legislation. Udall is a liberal who says he does not regret his vote for ObamaCare and, unlike most Democrats running for reelection, would welcome campaign help from the president. But his ace in the hole this year was a divided Republican party.

The Colorado GOP looked to be ready to tear itself apart again this year with a crowded primary that many expected 2010 Senate nominee and Tea Party favorite Ken Buck—who lost what many felt was a winnable race to Michael Bennet—to win. But, as Politico reports, in a surprising development Buck and two other Republicans pulled out of the race in the last month to clear the field for Rep. Cory Gardner, the man that national Republicans wanted as the nominee. While Gardner won’t have an easy time against Udall, these developments will not only help Republicans in a race that is now considered a tossup; it may be a signal that the GOP, including its Tea Party faction, is playing to win in 2014.

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In both 2010 and 2012, Republicans threw away golden opportunities to take control of the Senate by nominating outlier candidates that turned likely victories into defeats. The most prominent examples, such as Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and Missouri’s Todd Akin, illustrated not only how gaffe-ridden politicians could transform unpopular Democratic incumbents into winners but also the profound lack of seriousness on the part of many in the GOP. This kept Harry Reid in office (thanks to Angle) and in charge of the Senate. But it appears that not only have the issues and President Obama’s job performance put the Democrats in a tough position heading into the midterms, but that this year Republicans are behaving as if they are more interested in winning than in ideological purity or pursuing grudges.

The best example of this comes from Colorado where Democrat Mark Udall is up for reelection to his Senate seat. Udall, who was swept in on Obama’s coattails in the 2008 “hope and change” wave, was not thought to be among the most vulnerable Democrats this year. Demographic changes have transformed Colorado into a purple or light blue state in presidential elections. But it is still highly competitive with strong conservative tendencies, especially on issues like gun control, as two Democratic state senators discovered last fall when they were recalled after passing more stringent gun legislation. Udall is a liberal who says he does not regret his vote for ObamaCare and, unlike most Democrats running for reelection, would welcome campaign help from the president. But his ace in the hole this year was a divided Republican party.

The Colorado GOP looked to be ready to tear itself apart again this year with a crowded primary that many expected 2010 Senate nominee and Tea Party favorite Ken Buck—who lost what many felt was a winnable race to Michael Bennet—to win. But, as Politico reports, in a surprising development Buck and two other Republicans pulled out of the race in the last month to clear the field for Rep. Cory Gardner, the man that national Republicans wanted as the nominee. While Gardner won’t have an easy time against Udall, these developments will not only help Republicans in a race that is now considered a tossup; it may be a signal that the GOP, including its Tea Party faction, is playing to win in 2014.

Udall is hoping that he can do to Gardner what Bennet did to Buck in 2010 and define a man who is not that well known statewide as an extremist. The success of this familiar Democratic strategy depends on tarring the GOP standard-bearer as a foe of women in an effort to distract the public from Obama’s woes and ObamaCare. Gardner is a social conservative, but he has moderated his views on abortion enough to survive the attack provided he doesn’t hand Udall any Akin-style moronic quotes about rape that will sink him. But with a united party behind him and enough money at his disposal, Gardner has an even chance of knocking off Udall. At the very least, he will force Democrats to spend heavily to defend a seat they thought was not in as much danger as some of their seats in red states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alaska.

But the point here is that rather than make a suicidal run at Gardner, Buck cut a deal with him and is now running for the congressional seat that he is vacating. The same was true of the other Republicans who decided that the smart thing to do was to let the strongest candidate have an easy path to November. Tea Partiers who railed last year at establishment types like Karl Rove for wanting winnable Senate candidates may now be listening to reason. Gardner and other Republicans must still prove that they have the campaign discipline that will help them fend off the faux “war on women” smears Democrats will hurl at them and stick to the economy and ObamaCare. If they do, Harry Reid won’t be the majority leader next January.

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Dems Shouldn’t Bother Arguing with Silver

Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

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Back in 2012, Republicans and many conservative writers weren’t buying Nate Silver’s forecasts about the presidential election. They argued he was exaggerating President Obama’s appeal and some, like me, doubted the New York Times writer’s assumptions about turnout that year resembling that of the 2008 election. As everyone knows, we who differed with Silver were wrong. In fact, we were extremely wrong and those who care to learn from the experience will try not to allow their political opinions or their hopes temper their views of the numbers again. But, as the Washington Post reports, this time around it’s the Democrats who are the doubters.

Silver, who left the Times to start his own website associated with ESPN, posted a piece this weekend establishing the GOP as a clear favorite to win control of the Senate this fall. But, as the Washington Post reports, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to argue that the man who called all 50 states right in the 2012 election is wrong. The DSCC claims that there aren’t enough polls to justify Silver’s assertion that the Republicans have a 60 percent chance of picking up at least six Senate seats. The Democrats also point out instances of Silver being either wrong in the past or at least underestimating the actual margins of races. But while the attempt to take down Silver will reassure some nervous Democrats who may have been under the impression the liberal-leaning pundit/statistician was only capable of predicting results they like, the response bears all the signs of the same denial that characterized GOP jousting with the writer two years ago.

As the Post notes, the DSCC has been trying to fundraise off of Silver’s last prediction about the Senate made less than a year ago. Last summer, Silver’s assessment of the various competitive Senate races gave the Republicans a 50-50 chance to pick up the seats they need. The article was cited in an attempt to rouse a somewhat lethargic Democratic donor base into action to fend off a potential disaster for President Obama’s party. But now that Silver’s analysis has begun to point toward what many are thinking may be a wave election in November, the Democrats are rightly worried about panic setting in among their ranks.

Silver’s breakdown of the competitive races is not particularly original. You don’t have to be a stat geek to know that the GOP will be heading into the fall knowing that, barring some kind of cataclysm, they will gain at least three red-state seats in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana. They are odds-on favorites to pick up two more from the Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana. He rates North Carolina as a 50-50 tossup as to whether the GOP will seize yet another red-state Democratic seat won in Barack Obama’s big year in 2008. Worse than that, he gives the Republicans at least a 40 percent shot at taking three more in Colorado, Michigan, and Alaska. And he rates Democratic chances of gains in Kentucky and Georgia as no better than 25 and 30 percent respectively. While it is conceivable to think that unforeseen circumstances or GOP gaffes can allow the Democrats to hold on, the chances of that happening are no better than those of the Republicans winding up winning far more than the six they need.

So my advice to Democrats is to not waste time arguing with Silver. He may be a liberal but as we have seen in the past few years, his background in baseball statistics as one of the leading lights of the SABRmetric revolution leads him inevitably to sober and unflinching looks at the numbers. If liberals don’t like the way things are heading this year, they would do better to evaluate their own positions on issues like ObamaCare or the fact that their out-of-touch “Downton Abbey” elitist party (to use the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green’s apt phrase) is setting this midterm cycle up as one that will be extremely favorable for the GOP, not bad poll numbers or faulty analysis. If not, they’ll be eating crow that is just as bitter as the dish so many conservatives had to consume in 2012.

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Beware the False Dawn

By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

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By almost all accounts, 2014 is going to be a very good political year for Republicans. Even Democrats are conceding that at this point at least, the odds are better than not that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Neutral political observers say there are now roughly 12 Democratic-held seats in danger; Republicans need to pick up six of them. If that occurs, it would be the “tsunami” predicted by the RNC’s outstanding chairman, Reince Priebus, and the second disastrous mid-term for Democrats during the Obama presidency.

Here are two thoughts on this. It may be that Republicans are in relatively good shape these days to make substantial gains in House and Senate races – but the presidency is much more of an uphill climb, including for demographic reasons. (That was certainly true of Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s.) To put it another way: Mid-term elections are a good deal more favorable for Republicans than national presidential elections.

Presidential elections matter more.

Second, beware the false dawn. That’s what happened in 2010, when Republicans wiped out Democrats in races for state legislatures, governorships, the House and the Senate. Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate had turned hard against President Obama and his agenda. In 2012, however, Mr. Obama became the first president to achieve the 51 percent mark in two elections since President Eisenhower and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Roosevelt. 

What we have, then, is what Mr. Priebus calls “a tale of two parties.” Republicans are situated pretty well when it comes to mid-term elections – but they shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that even if they score an impressive victory in 2014 (and things could still change, of course), it means that Republicans are well-situated for 2016.

The truth is that even if Republicans sweep to victory in 2014 they still have significant repair work that needs to be done – in terms of its agenda and tone, in the mechanics of presidential campaigns and the quality of the candidates we field  – if they hope to win back the presidency.

In my estimation, the GOP is still facing a moment similar to what Democrats and the British Labour Party did in the early and mid-1990s. (It took Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to recast their parties in fairly significant ways, including optically and substantively, on issues like welfare and crime and in terms of a favorable disposition toward individual responsibility and democratic capitalism.)

The problems facing the Republican Party are not transitory or simply candidate-specific; they are more fundamental than that. And so for the GOP to once again become a consistently viable presidential party, Republicans need to put forward a considerably more compelling governing vision than it has, with particular focus on the concerns and challenges facing the middle class and in a way that will win over minority voters. There are some encouraging signs here and there, but it’s simply not nearly where it needs to be. And unless more Republicans accept that fact, and adjust to it, they’ll continue their presidential losing streak.

The 2014 mid-term elections are certainly important; but if Republicans do well and, having done well, once again draw the wrong lessons from them, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. 

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Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

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This past weekend the panic being felt on the left about the 2014 midterms reached epic proportions with a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about how fear of the “Obama Factor” was sapping Democratic morale. The story rehashed what has long been obvious about this year’s campaign: Democrats are at a huge disadvantage defending red-state Senate seats won in the 2008 Obama-fueled “hope and change” election. The unpopularity of ObamaCare and its disastrous rollout combined with the sinking poll numbers of the president may all combine to bring both houses of Congress under GOP control in January 2015.

With several months left for Republicans to pull defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in 2010 and 2012 when golden opportunities to take winnable seats were sacrificed by terrible candidates and their gaffes), it’s way too early for the Democrats to give up or the GOP to start celebrating. But it isn’t too early to ask what exactly the Republicans would do if they did control Capitol Hill next year and to ponder what that would mean for the last two years of the Obama presidency. At the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, Paul Waldman takes up these questions and argues that the GOP’s possible 2014 triumph would be short-lived, if not entirely Pyrrhic. Waldman believes the basic antagonism between the House and the Senate will make any cooperation between the two impossible even if Republicans ran them both. Differing approaches to ObamaCare would provoke bitter and unwinnable fights between the varying GOP factions or “unrealistic bills that he [Obama] can veto without worrying about any backlash from the public.” In short, he predicts having the Senate as well as the House would do Republicans no good and maybe even help the Democrats heading into 2016.

Waldman is right that a 2014 win might well lead to plenty of internecine GOP warfare. He’s also correct that the 2016 Senate math (with a host of seats won in the 2010 GOP landslide up for grabs) might give Democrats a golden opportunity to snatch the upper House back, especially if they have a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. But liberals who imagine that a GOP Congress would be no big deal are delusional. A Republican Senate will make the next two years a nightmare for Obama and give the GOP a chance to undermine his liberal agenda while setting the stage for what they hope will be a return to the White House in 2016.

Let’s concede that the combative spirit of the House GOP caucus won’t be made any less confrontational by a victory in November. But the dynamic of Congress isn’t only defined by the institutional rivalries that Waldman discusses. By controlling the Senate, Democrats have exercised a pocket veto on everything the House produces, whether the product of centrist consensus or Tea Party fantasy. The unrealistic nature of much of the debate that has taken place on the House side is in no small measure the product of a situation in which nothing they do really matters so long as Harry Reid can frustrate them at will. If Reid is replaced by Mitch McConnell at the majority leader’s desk, that changes. At that point, the House caucus stops being a glorified debating society and becomes part of a governing majority. That won’t magically transform them or their Senate colleagues into a collection of legislative geniuses, but it will mean that suicidal gestures born in despair at their inability to pass bills will be a thing of the past.

Nor should Republicans fear—and Democrats anticipate with glee—the prospect of debates about fixes or alternatives to ObamaCare. Contrary to the liberal talking points echoed by many in the media, there are a number of realistic GOP proposals on health care out there that have been ignored because a Democratic Senate makes any new approaches to the misnamed Affordable Care Act impossible.

It is true that the continued presence of Barack Obama in the White House will mean the GOP will still not be governing the nation. He may well use his veto power more than before and frustrate Republican legislative initiatives. But by the same token, the ability of Republicans to hamstring Obama’s liberal agenda and subject his administration to probes will be enhanced.

The president may respond by accelerating his effort to bypass Congress and to govern by means of executive orders. But doing so as a lame duck will not only strike most voters as problematic from a constitutional point of view; it will also place a burden on Democrats in 2016 that they will be hard-pressed to cope with.

Most importantly, a Republican Senate would end any chance that Supreme Court retirements would allow the president to create a liberal court that could stand for decades or to continue his project of packing the appeals courts with like-minded jurists.

A Republican Congress won’t be able to undo everything Barack Obama has done or impose a Tea Party agenda on the nation. But it will act as a far more effective break on a liberal president than the current split Congress and also give Republicans more forums from which they can promote their ideas as they look to 2016. Any Democrat who doesn’t think that will materially damage his party or its leader will learn differently if the GOP vindicates the pundits and sweeps the board this November.

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

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In a week in which Democrats have already received a harsh wake-up call about the nature of the 2014 midterms in the form of a stunning loss in the special election for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, today’s New York Times article about the Kentucky Senate race will likely give liberals another conniption fit. The piece, a preview of a new Times-run site called Upshot, debunks the popular Democratic belief that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is doomed to defeat this November. Upshot may turn out to be nothing more than an attempt at an edgier version of Times political coverage intended to compete with the popular political news websites that have been running rings around old media print-based papers for years. But in this case author Nate Cohn is right on the money. Despite the wild optimism about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s challenge to McConnell that has become conventional wisdom in the liberal mainstream media, the odds against the Democrats in Kentucky are far greater than most on the left will concede.

As Cohn points out, the problem for liberals in Kentucky is no different from the one they faced this week in Florida when a superior and well-funded Democratic candidate lost to an inferior Republican. In Florida-13, national issues helped keep a seat in Republican hands in a district that Barack Obama won twice. As much as Democrats are trying to make the election a referendum on McConnell, 2014 is all about President Obama and ObamaCare. And as long as that is the case, Democrats are in big trouble.

The mainstream media narrative about the Kentucky race has been fairly consistent. McConnell is the Republican liberals seem to despise the most and 2014 seemed to create a perfect storm of circumstances that could guarantee his defeat. Many Tea Party activists regard McConnell as the quintessential establishment traitor to their cause leading Matt Bevin, a wealthy investment executive, to try to take out McConnell in a primary. But even if he survived a primary, Democrats are fielding a formidable candidate in Grimes, who has a strong record as Kentucky secretary of state and can mobilize heavy hitters like former President Bill Clinton to back her candidacy. The party establishment felt so strongly about Grimes that they went all out to discourage actress Ashley Judd from running and the result is that she has a clear path to November. All that adds up to a competitive race that probably gives the Democrats their best—and perhaps only—chance to unseat a Republican senator this year.

But, as Cohn points out, assuming that a red state like Kentucky will oust an incumbent Republican senator, not to mention one as powerful as the minority leader (who may well become majority leader next January) is a leap of faith that sensible political observers shouldn’t make. The number of incumbents in McConnell’s position that have been defeated for reelection in the last generation can be counted on one hand. Indeed, the only real precedent for such an event is what happened to Alaska’s Ted Stevens in 2008 when Mark Begich narrowly defeated him after the senator was convicted in a corruption case. But, as Cohn helpfully points out, as much as Democrats and some right-wing activists might hate him, McConnell isn’t a convicted felon (while failing to note that Stevens’s conviction was later overturned because of the outrageous and illegal conduct of his prosecutors, though that did the Alaskan, who died in a plane crash soon after the election, little good).

If, as Cohn points out, McConnell could be reelected in 2008 in the middle of the electoral wave for Barack Obama as well as in the wake of his role in the passage of the TARP bailout for the banks, it’s hard to imagine him losing in the midst of what almost everyone concedes will be a big Republican year with voter outrage focused on ObamaCare. Throw in the fact that anger about Obama’s anti-coal policies is running red hot in the state’s coal producing regions and it’s hard to see how Grimes gets to a majority this year.

Moreover, as Cohn also notes, Grimes’s good poll numbers that show her even with the senator have a fatal flaw. She’s currently polling in the low 40s, which sounds good but, given Kentucky’s past voting patterns, that may be her ceiling rather than a jumping off point.

More than anything else, like other Democrats, Grimes is going to have to deal with the massive fallout from ObamaCare. Like Alex Sink in Florida-13, Grimes is trying to finesse the issue by saying the law should be fixed rather than repealed. The Kentucky ObamaCare exchange is working better than in most states leading some to conclude health care won’t be the issue in that state that it is elsewhere. But that’s an assumption that fails to take into account the dynamic of how a national issue can overwhelm local concerns. And, as Sink discovered, the “fix it” mantra may not turn out to be so smart anyway since it forces Democrats to play on Republican turf.

It’s true that Mitch McConnell has a fight on his hands and Grimes may well have a future in national politics beyond this year. But those counting on the minority leader losing are probably backing the wrong horse in this year’s Senate derby.

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Finessing ObamaCare Won’t Save Dems

Like all special elections, it is possible to overstate the implications of yesterday’s Republican victory in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Democrats have eight months to figure out how to survive the 2014 midterm elections without suffering a repeat of their landslide loss in 2010. But there’s no way for Democrats to spin the Florida 13 results as anything but a portent of disaster. Democrats had a much better candidate who raised more money running against a weak and apparently disorganized Republican effort in a genuine swing district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. More importantly the Democrat, Alex Sink, won the district in her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. In other words, if Democrats can’t win this sort of competitive district under these favorable circumstances, it begs the question of how they can hope to win anywhere else outside of deep blue strongholds.

The explanation for this is the obvious dissatisfaction with President Obama and ObamaCare that is being expressed across the country. As a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals, the president is at his all-time low in terms of approval. Even worse, voters say they are far more unlikely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by President Obama than if they did not back the administration. While Republicans and the Tea Party are also unpopular, these midterms stack up, as has every previous off-year election, as a referendum on the president with his signature health-care plan looking to be the key issue much as it was in 2010. But while we pundits can debate just how much these factors will impact what happens in November, what isn’t debatable is that the Sink candidacy was a test case for a specific Democratic approach to the ObamaCare problem.

Sink ran as a moderate Democrat who promised to work across party lines, characteristics that polls show voters like. Knowing that ObamaCare is deeply disliked by the public, she attempted to finesse the issue by acknowledging its problems but urging that it be fixed rather than thrown out. This seems like the most sensible poll-tested method for Democrats to deal with health care, but it failed miserably. If we learned anything last night it is that ObamaCare is so toxic that any attempt by Democrats to maneuver around it is bound to fail.

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Like all special elections, it is possible to overstate the implications of yesterday’s Republican victory in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Democrats have eight months to figure out how to survive the 2014 midterm elections without suffering a repeat of their landslide loss in 2010. But there’s no way for Democrats to spin the Florida 13 results as anything but a portent of disaster. Democrats had a much better candidate who raised more money running against a weak and apparently disorganized Republican effort in a genuine swing district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. More importantly the Democrat, Alex Sink, won the district in her unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. In other words, if Democrats can’t win this sort of competitive district under these favorable circumstances, it begs the question of how they can hope to win anywhere else outside of deep blue strongholds.

The explanation for this is the obvious dissatisfaction with President Obama and ObamaCare that is being expressed across the country. As a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll reveals, the president is at his all-time low in terms of approval. Even worse, voters say they are far more unlikely to vote for a candidate who is endorsed by President Obama than if they did not back the administration. While Republicans and the Tea Party are also unpopular, these midterms stack up, as has every previous off-year election, as a referendum on the president with his signature health-care plan looking to be the key issue much as it was in 2010. But while we pundits can debate just how much these factors will impact what happens in November, what isn’t debatable is that the Sink candidacy was a test case for a specific Democratic approach to the ObamaCare problem.

Sink ran as a moderate Democrat who promised to work across party lines, characteristics that polls show voters like. Knowing that ObamaCare is deeply disliked by the public, she attempted to finesse the issue by acknowledging its problems but urging that it be fixed rather than thrown out. This seems like the most sensible poll-tested method for Democrats to deal with health care, but it failed miserably. If we learned anything last night it is that ObamaCare is so toxic that any attempt by Democrats to maneuver around it is bound to fail.

The “fix it” strategy seems to be the stance that many Democrats are trying across the country this year. The conceit of the approach is that while voters may not like the idea of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, they will probably be uncertain of the impact of a full repeal. If Democrats can focus on the improvements that can be made to the tottering scheme, much like the controversial repaired website healthcare.gov, it is hoped that they can find an electoral sweet spot that will enable them to evade responsibility for its passage.

There are two fundamental flaws to this approach. One is tactical and the other is strategic.

The tactical problem is that the “fix it” spin on ObamaCare compels Democrats to play on Republican territory. While it is only common sense for candidates to concede that the ObamaCare rollout was a disaster and that the disruptions it will cause will hurt a lot of people, taking that as your main position on the most important issue of the day is conceding that the GOP’s stance is basically correct. Like moderate Republicans who for decades seemed to adopt Democratic positions on the welfare state and entitlements with the caveat that they would administer them in a manner that was more fiscally sound, “fix it” is a political loser. While a full-throated defense of ObamaCare would probably be suicidal in a swing district where most voters oppose the measure, trying to have it both ways on health care puts Democrats in a weak position that only the most brilliant candidates can possible pull off.

The strategic problem is that Democrats were sure that public opinion on ObamaCare would turn once it was implemented. Bur rather than become as popular as Social Security or Medicare, as they though it would, right now it looks to be every bit as unpopular as it was in 2010. That puts in place the possibility that 2014 will be another wave election in which swing districts and states will turn on that issue rather than be decided principally by local personalities and issues. Though President Obama’s decision to postpone the imposition of the law’s mandate on many employers and individual insurance customers will lessen the blow for Democrats, they can’t evade the fact that in contrast to Social Security and Medicare, there are as many if not more voters who will be negatively affected by ObamaCare as those who are helped by it. That is something that the “fix it” approach won’t change.

Like Alex Sink, endangered Democratic Senate incumbents like Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, and Mark Pryor will try the “fix it” approach and hope to do better in November. But unlike Sink, they are also burdened by their votes for ObamaCare. Looked at from that perspective, the Florida 13th special makes it look as if anger at the president and his signature health-care law will create a tide that no amount of clever Democratic tactics or fundraising advantages will overcome.

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The GOP’s Unpopularity Is…Complicated.

An eye-opening observation from Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call about the relative popularity and unpopularity of the Democrats and the Republicans: “Independent voters had almost identical feelings about both parties,” despite the fact that Democrats have a 9-point advantage when those polled by the New York Times/CBS News were asked if they view the parties favorably or unfavorably.

“I assumed most of the Democratic brand advantage stemmed from the GOP’s terrible reputation among independents,” Rothenberg writes. “But the survey showed that while 31 percent of independents had a favorable view of the GOP, 30 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party. And while 60 percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, 61 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.”

What this means, he says, is that the problem with Republican numbers is that Republicans told pollster they have an unfavorable view of the GOP. This makes sense. Tea Partiers dislike the Republican “establishment”; more mainline Republican voters do not think highly of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Each side thinks the force they dislike defines the GOP at present, so they say they don’t like the GOP much.

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An eye-opening observation from Stuart Rothenberg in Roll Call about the relative popularity and unpopularity of the Democrats and the Republicans: “Independent voters had almost identical feelings about both parties,” despite the fact that Democrats have a 9-point advantage when those polled by the New York Times/CBS News were asked if they view the parties favorably or unfavorably.

“I assumed most of the Democratic brand advantage stemmed from the GOP’s terrible reputation among independents,” Rothenberg writes. “But the survey showed that while 31 percent of independents had a favorable view of the GOP, 30 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party. And while 60 percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, 61 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.”

What this means, he says, is that the problem with Republican numbers is that Republicans told pollster they have an unfavorable view of the GOP. This makes sense. Tea Partiers dislike the Republican “establishment”; more mainline Republican voters do not think highly of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Each side thinks the force they dislike defines the GOP at present, so they say they don’t like the GOP much.

This is actually startlingly good news for the GOP in the upcoming elections, because despite this supposed antipathy, when push comes to shove and it’s time to go to the polling booth, self-identified partisan votes almost always show up and vote for the party to which they belong.

Despite silly claims to the contrary, both John McCain and Mitt Romney received record numbers of votes among self-described Republicans, and with the exception of some numbers in Ohio, there’s little evidence to support the claim that millions of Republican voters “stayed home” in 2012 and helped swing the election to Barack Obama. In fact, in the end, Romney received 1 million more votes than McCain did, while Obama’s vote total declined by nearly 4 million.

The Democrats are going to work hard to try and make the electorate act as it did in 2012, but the president will not be on the ticket and they will be lucky to have a third of the money they had to spend in 2012 in getting out the vote. If the GOP base turns out in November—and there’s little reason to think it won’t, with ObamaCare on the line and with this final opportunity to send a message to the White House while Obama is in office—and independents aren’t feeling especially antipathetic toward Republicans, it could be a very significant Election Day indeed.

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Pryor’s Insane Attack on Military Service

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

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Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

Mr. Cotton is leading the race right now. That lead will grow because of Mark Pryor’s foolish and offensive line of attack. The race is still close and Cotton can’t let up. He needs to run as if he’s running a couple of points behind. But as an outside observer, my own hunch is that we’ll look back at Pryor’s comments and point to it as a sign of desperation and perhaps the moment in which (to borrow from this Willie Nelson classic) it can be said of the Pryor campaign, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over; they say that all good things must end. Let’s call it a night; the party’s over.”

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Senate Auguries Get Worse for the Dems

Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

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Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

Also, the Democrats did very well in the 2008 Senate elections, when Barack Obama had significant coattails. The Democrats won 20 of the 35 seats up for grabs that year. And whenever a party does exceptionally well in the Senate in one election, it tends to do very badly six years later. Partly that is because weak candidates who were carried on the wave usually lose as the electorate reverts to normal. In 1938, six years after FDR’s triumph in 1932, the Democrats lost 7 Senate seats. In 1986, six years after Reagan’s landslide, when the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years, the Republicans lost 5 seats (and control of the Senate).

It is, of course, way too early for the Republicans to be opening the champagne. Some dramatic event might change the electoral map. The Republicans, as they are all too often wont to do, might nominate unelectable candidates and throw away what now look like certain pickups, as they did in Indiana and Missouri in 2012.

But right now, the auguries are grim for the Democrats in the Senate.

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Dems May Regret More OCare Delays

After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

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After dozens of delays of various aspects of ObamaCare, Democrats are still facing a tsunami of voter anger this fall in midterm elections that are looking more and more like a disaster for the president’s party. The administration’s answer to their plight is simple: delay more implementation of the president’s unpopular and misnamed Affordable Care Act.

The Hill is reporting today that the White House is planning on announcing yet another ObamaCare delay:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare’s minimum coverage requirements. Prolonging the “keep your plan” fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day. The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber.

The political motivations for this move are obvious. Prior to the rollout of ObamaCare last fall, Democrats drew a line in the sand on any delay of the president’s signature health care law. Rather than push back the implementation of the legislation a single day, they allowed the government to be shut down for weeks causing untold suffering to the American people. That was a political masterstroke. The mainstream media blamed the GOP for the fiasco since their demands for delaying or defunding the law seen as unreasonable and unrealistic. What a difference a few months makes.

Will Democrats get away with it? Given the unwillingness of the same media that lampooned Republicans for suggesting the same thing only six months ago, they just might. In addition to that, there have been so many delays of the law’s implementation that even those Americans who pay attention to the issue may have lost track of what aspects of the president’s scheme are being enforced.

Liberals may still be pretending that ObamaCare will be popular or that the only problem with its rollout was a glitch-ridden website that was fixed. But in only a few months they have also developed a healthy fear of the consequences of its implementation. Already millions of Americans have lost their insurance coverage or access to their doctors because of the dictates of this new law that branded every policy that did not conform to their arbitrary standards as “junk” insurance. Sticking to that talking point hasn’t been easy for liberal talking heads on television but once more Americans feel ObamaCare’s impact, it will be impossible.

Once the delays are rescinded and the employer mandates are put in place along with the rules for individual policyholders, the results will be far-reaching and serious. At that point, it won’t be possible to deny the fact that the number of Americans who have been hurt by this law may not only equal the total helped but, in fact, may outnumber them.

But Democratic optimism about this underhanded and unconstitutional tactic (since the president does not actually have the power to pick and choose which laws or which parts of laws he will enforce) may be misplaced. The mere fact of so many delays as well as the evidence of the damage already done by the law to so many voters may outweigh any tactical advantages won by the stalling strategy.

Even worse, by putting off so much of the pain until after the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats may be setting themselves up for a really unpleasant time in 2015 and 2016. If the majority of Americans are already unhappy with ObamaCare today, that anger will be even greater next year once more employers and individuals are coping with its costs and hardships. If, as may well happen despite the delays, Republicans win back control of the Senate in addition to keeping the House of Representatives, that will put them in position to do more than delay ObamaCare next year but to send a repeal bill to the president. He will veto it and there’s little chance that the Republicans will overturn it. But with anger about this law rising to new heights just when the country is turning its attention to the 2016 presidential race rather than in 2014, that could create even more problems for Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat who wishes to succeed the president.

At that point, Democrats may look back on this year’s ObamaCare delays and the president’s determination to frontload the benefits and backload the pain with genuine regret.

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The State of the Tea Party 2014

Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

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Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

Like all such movements the transition from the stump to the halls of government power has been rough. Effecting change in a democracy is more than a matter of demonstrations or even getting out the vote. It requires persuasion and a commitment to the sort of nose-to-the-grindstone political work that is antithetical to the spirit of rebellion Santelli and those who followed him have sought to harness.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah summed up the challenge for the Tea Party when he said this week, “The way to defeat establishment inertia is not by finding and discarding heretics as much as it is about winning a civil debate. A civil debate, not a civil war.” He’s right about that and those who see only a war between the party establishment and the activists need to remember that the Tea Party has already won the ideological war within the Republican Party.

Though coverage of the Tea Party mostly focuses on the fights between Senator Ted Cruz and some of his GOP colleagues, what is often forgotten is that there is no debate within the party about the principles that the Tea Party movement embodies. All endorse the Tea Party view about the need to fight back against President Obama’s efforts to increase the power of government. Anger against ObamaCare and a government that is too big to fail and too powerful to be held accountable for its out-of-control spending is universal in the GOP. The only differences are about tactics, not the ideas that catapulted the movement into the public square after the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act were past by a Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010.

The Tea Party has stumbled at times when it allowed the emotions of the debate to overwhelm good sense and dictate destructive tactics like the government shutdown to undermine their cause. It has sometimes pursued party purity over the less exciting business of building governing coalitions. But what its liberal critics forget is that while Ted Cruz and government shutdown advocates are not trusted by most Americans, the same public anger that gave birth to the Tea Party is even greater today than it was five years ago. The challenge for Republicans is to remember that the Tea Party is not just a bunch of activists who go to conventions but, in fact, a broad cross-section of Americans who share their basic beliefs about the role of government. That mass movement of voters took liberal pundits by surprise in 2010 when the Tea Party that they derided as a band of racist cranks turned out in numbers sufficient to oust a Democratic Congress.

The Tea Party is not tied to specific organizations bearing the name but to an idea of reform. To the extent that Republicans continue to embody that concept while also showing themselves worthy of the people’s trust, they will win. That’s why, for all of its ups and downs in recent years, Democrats who prefer to believe the myth that the Tea Party is a top-down concept created by corporate funders may discover they are as wrong about it today as they were when it first started. 

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Obama Budget: Dems Still Status Quo Party

While Democrats have spent the last few months trying in vain to engender a public outcry about income inequality, the greatest challenge facing the country remains the same: a long-term budget and debt crisis fueled by the rising cost of entitlements that can’t be fixed with token spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But the 2015 budget that President Obama will propose this year will ignore it. Instead of building on the discussions that he has had with Republicans in recent years in which he has at least contemplated a form of entitlement reform, there will be no mention of indexing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients or any other measure intended to check the growth of expenditures by the government. Instead, the president is proposing $56 billion more in federal spending on pet projects.

This means nothing in terms of what the legislative branch will actually wind up passing—if indeed both the House and the Senate are actually able to pass a budget before the current Congress is adjourned and replaced by a new one next January—since the Republican majority in the House will not even consider the president’s proposal. What he will be giving the country is not so much an economic blueprint as a political manifesto of Democratic beliefs. As such, it is a useful guide to how Democrats will run in November’s midterm elections. Though liberals are fond of chiding the GOP for being a prisoner of the Tea Party rather than a party of ideas, the Obama budget makes it clear that the Democrats intend to face the people in the fall as a brain-dead status quo party that is addicted to taxes and spending. This may please a liberal base that is flexing its muscles after the victories of ideologues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. But it’s hard to imagine how they think they can hold the Senate or avoid losing more seats in the House running to the hard left in the wake of the ObamaCare disaster that has soured the public on the big-government paradigm.

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While Democrats have spent the last few months trying in vain to engender a public outcry about income inequality, the greatest challenge facing the country remains the same: a long-term budget and debt crisis fueled by the rising cost of entitlements that can’t be fixed with token spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But the 2015 budget that President Obama will propose this year will ignore it. Instead of building on the discussions that he has had with Republicans in recent years in which he has at least contemplated a form of entitlement reform, there will be no mention of indexing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients or any other measure intended to check the growth of expenditures by the government. Instead, the president is proposing $56 billion more in federal spending on pet projects.

This means nothing in terms of what the legislative branch will actually wind up passing—if indeed both the House and the Senate are actually able to pass a budget before the current Congress is adjourned and replaced by a new one next January—since the Republican majority in the House will not even consider the president’s proposal. What he will be giving the country is not so much an economic blueprint as a political manifesto of Democratic beliefs. As such, it is a useful guide to how Democrats will run in November’s midterm elections. Though liberals are fond of chiding the GOP for being a prisoner of the Tea Party rather than a party of ideas, the Obama budget makes it clear that the Democrats intend to face the people in the fall as a brain-dead status quo party that is addicted to taxes and spending. This may please a liberal base that is flexing its muscles after the victories of ideologues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. But it’s hard to imagine how they think they can hold the Senate or avoid losing more seats in the House running to the hard left in the wake of the ObamaCare disaster that has soured the public on the big-government paradigm.

While the president has charted a hard-left approach, the White House is still pretending that he is a moderate facing off against right-wing extremists. That was the spin today coming from the president’s spokesman who claimed it was the GOP’s fault that entitlement reform was absent from the budget. The administration line is that since Republicans still oppose raising taxes, Obama feels empowered to drop his willingness to confront entitlements. But this is a lame excuse that won’t be believed even by his most loyal supporters.

By proposing a budget that refuses to contemplate any fix for the crisis that threatens to ultimately bankrupt the government, the president is seeking to enable Democrats to run to the left this year by defending entitlements and accusing Republicans of planning to throw grandmothers in wheelchairs over the cliff. He seems to believe that Americans are so addicted to government benefits and so fearful of any talk of reform that Democrats can blithely ignore fiscal reality and win big.

But if this strategy sounds familiar, it should. This was the same approach Democrats tried in 2010 when they blasted the GOP as radicals who wanted to take away Social Security and Medicare from senior citizens and further impoverish the poor. Just as in that midterm vote, Democrats are ignoring the specter of ObamaCare and hewing to their belief that only wingnut Tea Partiers care about the debt. In 2010 voters showed Democrats you didn’t have to be a fringe right-winger to care about restraining the growth of government. But since worries about the impact of the president’s signature health-care legislation are, if anything, even greater in 2014 than they were then, the president’s strategy may turn out to be a colossal mistake.

The growing number of ObamaCare losers who are being hurt by the new law may well outnumber those who benefit from it. Moreover, most of the swing seats that are up for grabs this year are in states where the president’s big-government manifesto will not only fall flat but also be a handicap to Democratic candidates. The liberal base never liked the idea of cutting spending no matter what tax increases the GOP might have proposed. All they want to hear from the president is a rigorous defense of more “investment”—government lingo for spending money plucked from the wallets of taxpayers on various federal projects and Obama boondoggles—and no reform of entitlements. That’s what the president has given them. But embattled Democrats in danger of losing this November will not thank him for drawing such a stark distinction between the parties on this seminal issue. Running on the status quo is always a political loser.

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ObamaCare Supporters Swear They Can Be Trusted This Time

In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

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In the last couple of days, the political press has introduced us to the Democrats’ emerging strategy for the upcoming midterm congressional elections. They will be running as the arsonists who can be trusted to put out their fire. They are being less explicit about the first part, of course. The New York Times has a story that exemplifies the cognitive dissonance. It begins with a campaign ad by Democratic Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona trumpeting the fact that when the Healthcare.gov website sputtered out of the gate, she wagged her finger at it.

But how did that website come about? It was an important component of ObamaCare, of course. And how did ObamaCare come about? Well, you’d have to go elsewhere for that information; Ann Kirkpatrick treats the disastrous health-care reform law as if it were some sort of anonymous cyberattack. In fact, Democrats passed ObamaCare over the objections of all Republicans and some Democrats. Kirkpatrick should know: she was one of the votes in favor of ObamaCare. Ann Kirkpatrick, then, helped unleash this horrendous law on her constituents.

But Kirkpatrick isn’t the only one. The Times itself seeks to avoid the messy topic of why the country is suffering from ObamaCare in the first place. The whole article talks about Democrats running on an agenda of “fixing” elements of the law, but only buried late in the story do we get a hint about the culprits. The call is coming from inside the House:

Moreover, not all congressional Democrats are talking about the health care law in their advertising or their routine stump speeches — and even some of those hoping to explain their support are being far from laudatory. The commercial for Ms. Kirkpatrick, the Arizona Democrat, by the House Majority PAC refers to the “disastrous health care website,” as does a spot the group did for Representative Joe Garcia, Democrat of Florida.

If you blinked, you might have missed it. Twenty-one paragraphs into the story we get a note about Democrats “hoping to explain their support.” Yes, ObamaCare was in fact an act of Congress. And that is what complicates this Democratic strategy. In order to confront the manifold problems in ObamaCare, they have to acknowledge its existence. And its existence is thanks to them.

And it’s not just voting for the law in the first place. The Times story also talks about the predicament facing Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, who, thanks to the shady “Louisiana Purchase,” provided a crucial vote for the bill. The Times mentions that her ad campaign will show her taking action, for example with “legislation she sponsored that would allow individuals to keep their insurance plans even if the plans did not meet the minimum requirements of the health law.”

Why can’t individuals keep their insurance? It’s not just the law’s regulations: an effort was made in late 2010 to alleviate that consequence of ObamaCare and allow folks to keep their insurance. Mary Landrieu was instrumental in defeating it and keeping ObamaCare as punitive as possible. What has changed? The public outrage and the fumbled rollout of the health-care exchanges, certainly. But other Democrats, as the Times reports, thought if they ignored the voters they would just go away:

“Part of what we learned in 2010 is that this is a real issue of concern to voters and you can’t dodge it, you have to take it on, and I think Democrats are much more ready and willing to do that in 2014,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who has done surveys for Democrats on the law. “We certainly have enough evidence now that this is not a fight you can win if you are in a defensive crouch.”

In one sense, it’s encouraging that Democrats are kinda-sorta confronting reality. But in another sense, this follows the classic storyline of American liberalism. Progressives animated by ideology, ignorant of policy and economics, and filled with contempt for the voters institute leftist policy. The policy is, unsurprisingly, a wreck. As others attempt to clean up their mess, liberals intervene to promise to fix what they’ve done, usually through yet more state coercion.

The arsonists promise that this time they can be trusted with the matches and lighter fluid. If that’s the best the Democrats have to go on, ObamaCare may have done more harm to their brand than even their opponents expected.

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From Messiah to Leper in Six Short Years

With no prospects for a successful legislative agenda in Congress and even his talk of governing by executive order not impressing either friends or foes, President Obama seems to be drifting inexorably toward lame-duck status. But there is no better indication of just how politically toxic Obama has become than the rumblings that came out of last week’s meeting between the president and Senate Democrats. As Politico reports, the White House has agreed to stay out of most of the key races that will decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate this year. Given the fact that his poll numbers are under water and that even Obama was prepared to admit that “in some of your states I’m not the most popular politician,” this is smart politics. But it also shows just how far the mighty Obama political machine has fallen.

In discussions of the 2014 midterm elections, one of the key factors that explains why Republicans have an advantage in November is often overlooked: Barack Obama’s stunning victory in 2008. If Democrats are forced to defend 21 Senate seats this year—including some highly vulnerable ones in red states—it is because six years ago, enthusiasm for Barack Obama inspired a massive turnout for his party that enabled them to win eight seats, turning a narrow 51-49 majority into a 59-41 hold on power that (after the late Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats) briefly turned into a 60-seat majority that helped ram ObamaCare through the Senate. Nor can there be any argument that it was the Obama-driven “hope and change” turnout of minorities and young voters that helped put Democrats over the top in states like Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon.

The lineup of tossup races is different this year, but the Obama factor is again in play. The irony is that while Democrats need to generate the kind of turnout of key constituencies they got in 2008 and 2012 when the president was at the top of the ballot, endangered Democrats want no part of the president and are specifically asking him to avoid appearances in their states lest his presence taint their hopes of holding on to their seats. While Obama’s fundraising ability is still key to Democratic hopes and might be welcomed by incumbents cruising to victory in safe seats, those fighting for their political lives understand their only chance of survival is to run as foes or at least skeptics of the president and ObamaCare.

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With no prospects for a successful legislative agenda in Congress and even his talk of governing by executive order not impressing either friends or foes, President Obama seems to be drifting inexorably toward lame-duck status. But there is no better indication of just how politically toxic Obama has become than the rumblings that came out of last week’s meeting between the president and Senate Democrats. As Politico reports, the White House has agreed to stay out of most of the key races that will decide whether Democrats retain control of the Senate this year. Given the fact that his poll numbers are under water and that even Obama was prepared to admit that “in some of your states I’m not the most popular politician,” this is smart politics. But it also shows just how far the mighty Obama political machine has fallen.

In discussions of the 2014 midterm elections, one of the key factors that explains why Republicans have an advantage in November is often overlooked: Barack Obama’s stunning victory in 2008. If Democrats are forced to defend 21 Senate seats this year—including some highly vulnerable ones in red states—it is because six years ago, enthusiasm for Barack Obama inspired a massive turnout for his party that enabled them to win eight seats, turning a narrow 51-49 majority into a 59-41 hold on power that (after the late Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats) briefly turned into a 60-seat majority that helped ram ObamaCare through the Senate. Nor can there be any argument that it was the Obama-driven “hope and change” turnout of minorities and young voters that helped put Democrats over the top in states like Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon.

The lineup of tossup races is different this year, but the Obama factor is again in play. The irony is that while Democrats need to generate the kind of turnout of key constituencies they got in 2008 and 2012 when the president was at the top of the ballot, endangered Democrats want no part of the president and are specifically asking him to avoid appearances in their states lest his presence taint their hopes of holding on to their seats. While Obama’s fundraising ability is still key to Democratic hopes and might be welcomed by incumbents cruising to victory in safe seats, those fighting for their political lives understand their only chance of survival is to run as foes or at least skeptics of the president and ObamaCare.

A breakdown of 2014 races shows that the seats most likely to switch hands are in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. With the exception of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is still favored to win reelection in Kentucky, Democrats currently hold all of these seats. Pundit Larry Sabato rates Alaska, Louisiana, and North Carolina as tossups, with the rest all considered likely GOP wins.

Republicans shouldn’t count their chickens before they’re hatched: at the moment the Democratic path to victory looks terribly steep. But what is particularly significant about the lineup of battleground Senate elections is that in order to prevail, Democratic incumbents are going to have spend the next several months distancing themselves from the head of their party. While all second-term presidents find it difficult to get their way in their last two years in power, the sixth-year midterms are generally their last chance for glory and influence. But in this case, President Obama is not so much being asked to avoid mistakes that might hurt his party as to shut up and stay out of those states where control of the Senate will be decided.

If Democrats lose the Senate this year it will be largely because of voter dissatisfaction with the president who helped sweep some of these incumbents into office in the first place. In six short years, Obama has gone from being a messiah to a leper that Senate Democrats are determined to shun. How are the mighty fallen, indeed. 

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The Court Jesters

Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

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Easily the strangest moment in last night’s State of the Union address was when President Obama promised to ignore Congress and carry out his agenda without their legislative oversight or cooperation and was met with a hearty ovation from congressional Democrats. One possible explanation was that they weren’t listening, and responded to a vocal cue. Another is that they simply assumed it was their obligation to shower their king with praise.

But there’s actually a third explanation, which may be giving them too much credit but is also at least logical. Politico carries an interesting story today on the tension between congressional Democrats and Obama over the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare and its possible impact on the fall midterm elections. In the president’s address, he tried to ward off Republican attempts to undo the unpopular law by holding vote after vote to repeal it. Enough of those symbolic votes, Obama said: “The first forty were plenty. We got it.”

But it turns out that, as the Politico story shows, the president’s real problem on ObamaCare is not Republican opposition–which he can dismiss as partisan posturing–but the congressional Democrats:

With the Democratic grip on the Senate coming down to at least six seats, the White House is extremely sensitive to the concerns of in-cycle Democrats. The administration hopes to use the president’s authority to assuage voter anger over the law, as it did recently by exempting volunteer fire departments from health coverage mandates.

In addition to Landrieu, who faces a tough reelection this year, the effort is also being organized by Heidi Heitkamp, who won a bruising battle in North Dakota last cycle. And the discussions include a spate of Democrats facing potentially difficult races this year, including Begich, Pryor, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

While the private discussions consist of several senators who are not running for reelection — namely freshmen Democrats like Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia, and the independent Angus King of Maine — at least nine senators facing voters in the fall are discussing whether to push legislation or pressure the White House to make administrative fixes they can then flag to voters back home.

The issue is this: the president doesn’t really want to talk about ObamaCare, because until coverage expands the White House will continue to lose the battle of the anecdotes. The law, thus far, is creating more “losers” than “winners.” The expansion of coverage under the law may not fix that because of Medicaid’s manifold weaknesses. Additionally, unless the employer mandate is repealed, its suspension will come to an end and inflict plenty of pain on the economy. And people will continue losing the plans they like.

However, the president has the bully pulpit and everyone who needs insurance and gets it under ObamaCare can have their story trumpeted by the traveling salesman in chief. The government will also claim, on behalf of ObamaCare, more credit for expanding coverage than it warrants while keeping the real numbers hidden for as long as possible, the way central planners always must in order to hide their incompetence.

The point is, the White House wants time to catch up. But Democrats up for reelection in November don’t have that time. They want to talk about ObamaCare–specifically, they want to talk about fixing it. Obama doesn’t, because that would admit its faults and failures.

Going through Congress is also a political minefield for the president, because Republicans still control the House and have enough seats in the Senate to make Democratic votes count. The president may be willing to make certain fixes to the law, but he doesn’t want to lose control of it.

Democrats have reason to be wary as well. The reason Harry Reid has been chipping away at minority rights and ignoring Senate rules and traditions is so Democrats can be spared from taking difficult votes. Tossing ObamaCare back into the Senate would mean some of these Democrats may get the votes they want–but they may also be forced to take votes they don’t, and the last thing they want is to have yet another vote in support of ObamaCare heading into the midterms. (That’s why they’re in this predicament in the first place.)

But there is a solution: The president can ignore the law and Congress and adjust the legislation accordingly, no votes necessary. Congressional Democrats are comfortable with this because they don’t want something as trifling as the law of the land or the Constitution to get in the way of their reelection and continued empowerment. The president is comfortable with this because he considers Congress’s main responsibility to be to stand and clap for him when he insults them to their faces. Which is what they, and he, did at last night’s address.

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The Number of ObamaCare Losers Grows

The decision by the Target Corporation to join Trader Joe’s, Home Depot, and other retailers and end health-insurance coverage for part-time employees brings both good news and bad for those hoping that ObamaCare would survive its disastrous rollout and emerge as a permanent part of the American economic and political landscape. The good news is that by dropping 10 percent of its part-time employees from its company insurance, the retailing giant has delivered a significant number of its 361,000 total employees into the ObamaCare insurance exchanges since they have no other option and many will be eligible for subsidies. Since a majority of them may be relatively young and healthy, they could help bolster the anemic ObamaCare enrollment figures and help redress the imbalance created by the disproportionate number of older and sick people on the new plans.

The bad news is that the thousands of Target employees who’ll now be forced to choose between ObamaCare and no coverage at all are not likely to be happy with either option. Unlike the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who understandably view the ACA as a godsend, these new recruits will be saddled with coverage that, even if it is not more expensive is, unlikely to be as good as the insurance they had with their employer. In other words, Target’s decision, like those of many other large businesses that are laying off workers or reducing others to part-time status because of the higher costs of meeting ObamaCare’s new standards, means that the number of Americans who will lose the coverage they had because of the new law is growing.

As Bloomberg reports, the Target decision is directly related to ObamaCare:

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The decision by the Target Corporation to join Trader Joe’s, Home Depot, and other retailers and end health-insurance coverage for part-time employees brings both good news and bad for those hoping that ObamaCare would survive its disastrous rollout and emerge as a permanent part of the American economic and political landscape. The good news is that by dropping 10 percent of its part-time employees from its company insurance, the retailing giant has delivered a significant number of its 361,000 total employees into the ObamaCare insurance exchanges since they have no other option and many will be eligible for subsidies. Since a majority of them may be relatively young and healthy, they could help bolster the anemic ObamaCare enrollment figures and help redress the imbalance created by the disproportionate number of older and sick people on the new plans.

The bad news is that the thousands of Target employees who’ll now be forced to choose between ObamaCare and no coverage at all are not likely to be happy with either option. Unlike the poor and those with pre-existing conditions who understandably view the ACA as a godsend, these new recruits will be saddled with coverage that, even if it is not more expensive is, unlikely to be as good as the insurance they had with their employer. In other words, Target’s decision, like those of many other large businesses that are laying off workers or reducing others to part-time status because of the higher costs of meeting ObamaCare’s new standards, means that the number of Americans who will lose the coverage they had because of the new law is growing.

As Bloomberg reports, the Target decision is directly related to ObamaCare:

The law doesn’t require most companies to cover part-time workers, and offering them health plans may disqualify those people from subsidies in new government-run insurance exchanges that opened in October … The health law requires all companies employing 50 or more people to offer health insurance to those working at least 30 hours a week starting in 2015. Those that don’t comply may be liable for fines of as much as $3,000 per worker. … The move should also reduce the cost of Target’s health benefits.

We already knew that the bland assurances the American public heard repeatedly from the president in his notorious “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan” were patently false. The administration tried to weasel its way out of that lie by claiming that the numbers of those who couldn’t keep their coverage or their doctors were negligible. It soon became clear that several million people who privately purchased insurance would be thrown off their old plans and forced into new ones that were not only more expensive but failed to offer the coverage they wanted. Others lost their doctors as a result of the changes.

But what most of us didn’t realize was that ObamaCare’s negative impact would go far beyond the private insurance market. As the Target decision illustrates, the law’s regulations will force companies to make decisions that will place heavy economic burdens on many of their employees and cause others to lose their jobs entirely or their hard-won full-time status. And that, in turn, means that the pool of ObamaCare losers is increasing so rapidly and precipitously that they’re well on their way to vastly outnumbering those who are better off because of the law’s passage.

Nor is it clear that even more moves such as that of Target, which will push thousands of consumers into the ObamaCare exchanges, will be sufficient to fill them with enough young and healthy people to ensure that the system becomes fiscally sound. With enrollment still millions short of the number needed to keep the scheme afloat, the prospect of federal bailouts for the system creates the likelihood that new battles will keep ObamaCare on the political front burner in a way that could fatally handicap Democrats in the midterm elections.

Democrats have assumed all along that once implemented, ObamaCare would be too popular to be repealed or even modified. Republicans shared the same assumption and even now many worry that no matter how grievous the impact of the law on the American economy, it will be impossible to rescind coverage from those who have gained it via ObamaCare.

But what neither party anticipated was the emergence of an entirely new demographic—the millions upon millions of ObamaCare losers—whose anger over the law could well be a game-changer. More corporate decisions such as Target’s that have the potential to increase the size of this group is bad news indeed for ObamaCare and the Democratic Party that, without a single Republican vote, foisted it upon an unwilling public.

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Can Democrats Win on Abortion in 2014? Not Necessarily.

Pro-life activists are streaming into Washington for tomorrow’s annual March for Life on the Mall marking the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Weather permitting, Republicans will be out in force to join the pro-lifers, while liberals continue to hope the issue will work in their favor this year as it did two years ago. After successfully persuading many voters that the GOP was waging a “war on women” in 2012, many Democrats believe the issue could help stave off an electoral disaster in this year’s midterm elections. As the New York Times reports, both parties traditionally look to abortion to help mobilize their bases, but for Democrats it has become a rallying cry to convince women that their freedom depends on turning out to defeat conservative Republicans.

Are they right? Given the impact that Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s ignorant comments on abortion and rape had not only on his own losing race in 2012 but on the entire GOP that year, it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that the faux war on women meme was a big winner for Democrats. The demonization of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinielli that helped him lose the women’s vote in November also points to the way liberals have manipulated abortion to their advantage. But the assumption that the Democrats can play this card again this year may be wrong. Moreover, Democrats may also be underestimating conservatives’ capacity to present the issue in a way that will help boost their turnout and diminish sympathy for candidates who march under the pro-choice banner.

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Pro-life activists are streaming into Washington for tomorrow’s annual March for Life on the Mall marking the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Weather permitting, Republicans will be out in force to join the pro-lifers, while liberals continue to hope the issue will work in their favor this year as it did two years ago. After successfully persuading many voters that the GOP was waging a “war on women” in 2012, many Democrats believe the issue could help stave off an electoral disaster in this year’s midterm elections. As the New York Times reports, both parties traditionally look to abortion to help mobilize their bases, but for Democrats it has become a rallying cry to convince women that their freedom depends on turning out to defeat conservative Republicans.

Are they right? Given the impact that Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s ignorant comments on abortion and rape had not only on his own losing race in 2012 but on the entire GOP that year, it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that the faux war on women meme was a big winner for Democrats. The demonization of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinielli that helped him lose the women’s vote in November also points to the way liberals have manipulated abortion to their advantage. But the assumption that the Democrats can play this card again this year may be wrong. Moreover, Democrats may also be underestimating conservatives’ capacity to present the issue in a way that will help boost their turnout and diminish sympathy for candidates who march under the pro-choice banner.

The electoral facts of life on abortion have always been focused on each party’s base and not the political center. It’s a litmus test for single issue voters on both ends of the spectrum. But most Americans don’t base their ballot choices solely on the issue of abortion.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority doesn’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade or to criminalize abortion. But they also demonstrate that a clear majority approves of significant restrictions on the practice, such as requiring parental consent and enacting bans on late-term procedures. The latter point is a crucial weakness for liberals because the advances in medical science, particularly sonograms, since the court ruled on Roe in 1973 make such abortions look more like infanticide than a woman exercising her “right to choose.” Last year’s gruesome Kermit Gosnell murder trial in Philadelphia opened the eyes of many Americans who had never understood exactly what late-term abortion meant or the possibility that such horrors involving the slaughter of babies born alive as a result of botched procedures might be more common than they had realized or than the liberal media had ever sought to inform them.

Thus, messaging is the key to whether the discussion of abortion can stampede voters away from Republicans or, as the GOP hopes, help boost their turnout in a year in which Democrats can no longer count on President Obama’s coattails. That’s why GOP gaffes such as the one committed by Akin are fatal to Republicans and tarnish the national image of conservatives. But the notion that Democrats can keep their stranglehold on the women’s vote ignores the way sonograms and the Gosnell case influence public opinion on late-term abortion. Though Wendy Davis vaulted to national liberal stardom last year on the strength of a filibuster against a bill that banned late-term abortions after 20 weeks—the period after which most fetuses become viable outside the womb—if the GOP can focus its candidates on this issue, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that it will work against them. Republicans also think they have another, related winning issue in the attempts to push back against the ObamaCare mandate forcing employers to pay for abortion and/or requiring the use of public funds to pay for them.

As long as Democrats can portray Republicans as troglodytes who think, as Akin did, that women’s bodies magically protect them from pregnancy in cases of rape, they are on firm ground to pursue their war on women theme. But if Republicans can manage to stay on message on late-term procedures and the impact of ObamaCare, there’s every reason to believe widespread concerns over  abortion will attract more voters to their candidates.

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