Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

OFA the Undead: A Political Zombie’s Lessons for Conservatives

Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

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Mary Katherine Ham called attention last night to a rather humorous ongoing correspondence between Organizing for Action and the Washington Post. OFA is the perpetual Obama reelection campaign, which has been retooled to act as a campaign organization without a campaign. It’s an organizational zombie, which reflects the Obama administration’s own attitude toward their perceived value in the permanent campaign, even when there are no elections left (they even run the Barack Obama Twitter account). But there are lessons, I think, for conservatives in OFA’s story.

The basic story is that, as Ham notes, Post political blogger Philip Bump wrote a piece in May that called attention to the fact that OFA was a purposeless shell, aimlessly wandering the country and unable to make a legislative impact on its pet political issues. Bump wrote about OFA’s announcement that with the midterms approaching and the need to maximize fundraising to candidates, it will stop accepting large donations. “Even without that news,” he added, “it’s not clear how much longer OFA will survive.”

OFA, coming from its formative experience as an Obama campaign machine, handles bad press about as well as you would expect the humorless president’s cultish fan clubs would. They challenged Bump over the next couple months to acknowledge and grade their work. He did, and he found that he was right. They’re a joke:

Organizing For Action has spent two months sending emails to the Post, trying to convince us of its effectiveness. (They were unhappy with this post asking how long the organization could survive.) So, we decided to look at what the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, was sending us. To catalog it. To do exactly what Carson apparently intended: Evaluate their work.

In short, we were not terribly impressed. …

By the most important metric, the group is largely ineffective. Of the priorities above — which, according to the group’s mandate, are meant to bolster federal efforts — none has seen national legislative action. The president introduced new restrictions on carbon pollution, but that was an executive action, not legislation. Immigration reform has stalled; there hasn’t been a national minimum wage increase. All of these things are difficult, given the opposition the president faces from Republicans in Congress, but that’s the point, right? Encourage people to take action in their communities? Bottom up change and all that?

Nonetheless, there are a couple things conservatives can learn from OFA’s good days and bad.

The first is that they should not dismiss OFA’s raison d’être. Though we often criticize the means by which the Democrats drum up support from their base–I regularly knock the White House’s “war on women” and took a shot at the pitiful attempts to get the GOP to talk impeachment–rallying the base itself is something conservatives should get used to, and the Obama campaign was very good at it.

Conservatives have tended to recoil a bit from the politicization of everything, and with good reason. But getting involved in partisan politics in a democracy is, as our Pete Wehner noted a couple weeks ago, a noble effort. I’m often reminded of the Jews in DP camps after World War II organizing themselves into political parties, ready to combat the tyranny they were subjected to not with more tyranny but with party politics as practiced by free men–even before they were truly free.

The instinct to organize and vote in or out policies and politicians according to your values and principles is the right way to change what needs changing. Liberal activism often has the feel of mob rule because that’s exactly what it is–except when those same activists who spend their time ostracizing the people they disagree with or destroying the livelihood of a thought criminal show up to the polls and vote. It’s terrible that liberals want to undo the protections in the First Amendment. But they give their authoritarian dreams hope of becoming reality by electing senators who actually introduce their wish lists as bills in Congress. Boosting turnout and organizing political action is the way they do that. Conservatives can’t expect to stop them by hoping John Roberts finds his spine.

The other lesson for conservatives is that the OFA zombie is a very leftist creature. I don’t just mean the politics, which are shallow and conventionally liberal. Its walking dead routine is the logical result of applying the liberal world view to any such organization. It becomes a bureaucracy that never disappears and simply prowls the night desperate for something to feed on.

Conservatives should learn not only from the left’s strengths but their weaknesses. This was a lesson conservatives may have learned from the spectacular failure of the Romney campaign’s get out the vote program. It had many problems, but one was surely its overly hierarchical command structure.

The Tea Party is best placed to relate to the organizing of the left because it is a grassroots movement that got candidates elected to Congress. The existence of a Tea Party Caucus is a good example of how these organizations get bureaucratized and then stuck in place, ultimately working against their own best interests thanks to their obsession with their brand. But there’s still a lot the right can learn from an Obama campaign organization that now seems to be plodding off, arms outstretched, into the sunset.

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Romney Beats Obama and 2016

Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

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Republicans are chortling this week over a new CNN poll that shows that if a new presidential election were to be held today, Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama by a 53 to 44 percent margin. Democrats dismiss this as merely the normal second-term blues while the GOP sees it as buyer’s remorse that bodes well for the midterms. Both may be right, but either party would be foolish to mortgage their futures on these results.

This is not the first poll to show a reversal of the last presidential election. In November 2013, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that Romney was favored by a 49-45 percent margin. The further decline of the president’s popularity in the new poll demonstrates just how far we’ve come from November 2012 when Obama won by a clear 51-47 margin that, thanks to a series of close victories in almost every swing state, translated into a 332-206 Electoral College landslide.

Obama thought he could be the exception to the iron rule of the presidency that dictates that virtually every occupant of the Oval Office will rue the day he won reelection. But neither his historic status as our first African-American president nor his decision to swing hard to the left on policy issues and to distract the public by harping on income inequality and the minimum wage helped him avoid an inevitable slide into lame duck status.

Try as they might to minimize the shift in the polls, Democrats can’t pretend that this is anything other than a decisive negative verdict from the public about the course of Obama’s second term. Over the course of the last 19 months, a rash of scandals (IRS, Benghazi, spying on the press and the VA) have undermined the credibility of the government. The ObamaCare rollout illustrated the incompetence of the president’s team and, despite the White House’s touchdown dances, set the stage for even more trouble in the future once the unpopular individual and employer mandates begin to be enforced. The crisis at our southern border was in no small measure the result of Obama’s miscalculated attempts to promote immigration reform. A host of foreign-policy disasters involving Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Hamas terrorists in Gaza was exacerbated by the ineptitude of the president’s new foreign/defense policy team of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. All these have undermined America’s prestige abroad and sapped confidence in Obama’s ability to govern or effectively promote America’s values and interests.

The president also believed that he could survive scandals and setbacks because of the unpopularity of his congressional opponents. But not even a disastrous government shutdown orchestrated by Tea Party stalwarts or the fumbling of golden opportunities to break open the scandal stories by overly partisan grandstanding House committees was enough to preserve the popularity of a president who is now widely seen as having run out of steam and ideas.

All this bodes ill for a Democratic Party that already had the odds stacked against it in the 2014 midterm elections. While it doesn’t appear that Republicans are able to leverage any single issue into the focus for a genuine wave election in the way that anger about ObamaCare lifted the GOP in 2010, the only truly national issue in 2014 appears to be discontent with Obama. Indeed, without the ability to claim their opponents will do the president’s will, the Republicans’ increasingly good chances of winning control of the Senate would be diminished.

But anyone on the right who thinks buyer’s remorse about Obama, which is perhaps also enhanced by a rethinking of the way the Democrats smeared Romney—a flawed politician who is also one of the finest men in contemporary American public life—means the Republicans have the edge heading into 2016 are not thinking straight. And that’s not just because the same CNN poll shows Romney trailing Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic nominee, by an even greater margin (55-42) than his 2012 loss to Obama.

In the 21 months since the last presidential election, Republicans have exploited Obama’s failures but they have yet to address the chronic demographic problems that undermined them in 2012. It should be remembered that most conservatives spent that year serenely confident that Obama was certain to be defeated. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize minorities and unmarried women to turn out in unprecedented numbers doomed Romney even though the president failed to make a good case for reelection. Part of that is rightly attributed to Obama’s personal popularity and his historic status. Indeed, the best thing the GOP has going for it in 2016 is that Obama won’t be on the ballot again. But none of that helps Republicans win all the battleground states they lost in 2012 if they are unable to get a greater share of those demographic groups that shunned them the last time around.

There are no simple answers to that problem. Merely passing an immigration reform bill that gives illegal immigrants a path to citizenship won’t do it, especially since the debacle on the Rio Grande shows the perils of attempting to legislate that without first securing the border. Nor can Republicans win single women by abandoning their principles on social issues. Similarly, the GOP needs to be wary of advice from liberal pundits calling for them to disassociate from their own conservative and Tea Party base even if some of their ideas—like Sarah Palin’s talk about impeaching Obama—should be ignored.

The solution to the problem does involve going back to some of the issues raised in COMMENTARY by Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson in March 2013 when they spoke of “saving” the party with new thinking that understood that merely channeling the politics of the 1980s would not work. It also involves listening more to people like Romney running mate Paul Ryan who continues to chart a reformist course that embraces a message of economic growth and a recognition that the GOP must reach out to working class Americans, not just Wall Street.

The recognition by a majority of Americans that two terms of Obama was a dreadful mistake is a good start for Republicans. But in and of itself it won’t help any Republican beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 unless the party does the hard work of rebuilding that all parties must do after they’ve been out of power.

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Obama’s Climate Laughs No Substitute for Sound Economics

President Obama had a good time mocking congressional Republicans yesterday for being skeptics about climate change. But even he seems to know that selling his radical proposals that will cause serious economic pain will not be as easy a sell as jokes about Flat Earth Republicans.

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President Obama had a good time mocking congressional Republicans yesterday for being skeptics about climate change. But even he seems to know that selling his radical proposals that will cause serious economic pain will not be as easy a sell as jokes about Flat Earth Republicans.

As Politico noted, Obama’s speech to the League of Conservation Voters was notable mainly for the president’s comedy routine aimed at depicting those who haven’t bought into every aspect of the radical environmentalist agenda as extremists with a screw loose. The reason for this strategy is easy to understand.

If Obama’s talking about regulations, he’s losing. If he’s talking about carbon caps for power plants or energy emissions for air conditioners, no one cares. But if he’s talking about crazy Republicans who don’t make any sense—and by the way, are putting children at risk, he charges—well, that’s an argument he can wrap his arms around.

Given the stranglehold that the global warming crowd has on the mainstream media and, even more importantly, in popular culture, the president’s confidence that a majority of Americans may agree with him on climate issues is well founded. But the gap between a general belief that the earth may be warming and a suspicion that human activity may be causing it and support for some of the administration’s prescriptions to address these issues is considerable.

As even the president acknowledged in his speech, his attempt to get rid of coal-fired power plants and force car manufacturers to alter their plans will have economic consequences. But the disconnect here isn’t merely a matter of marketing and better communication, as the White House seems to think.

As I noted back in March, polls have consistently shown that while the American people may believe the climate is changing, they don’t consider this to be a priority when it comes to government action. Liberals tend to think the reason for this is that the public is not yet sufficiently alarmed by the prospect of global warming. But instead of attempting to make a reasonable case for changes that will send electricity and gas prices skyrocketing and the refusal to undertake projects, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, that would increase America’s available resources, they engage in scare tactics that, generally, backfire.

That’s because what the public wants is not so much mockery of skeptics or hysterical and wildly exaggerated predictions of a warming apocalypse but a measured analysis of the cost/benefit ratio of climate legislation. And that is exactly what is lacking in the president’s comedy routine. Even if the courts have given the president the power to enact far-reaching changes without benefit of congressional approval, that doesn’t translate into widespread approval for carbon regulations that will damage the economy and cause genuine economic hardship. Nor will that problem be solved be reports filled with alarmist predictions funded by wealthy activists like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg that liberals cite to justify the suffering that will be imposed on the public. Though most Americans may think the climate is changing, they don’t think the apocalypse is at hand and aren’t interested in lowering their standard of living merely to gratify extremist ideology.

Merely branding his opponents as crazy won’t resolve this problem. Nor will the usual amorphous rhetoric about the power of green jobs that never seem to materialize and new technologies that will leapfrog over current difficulties that may take decades before they can take the place of fossil fuels, if, in fact, they ever do. In the meantime, they are left facing the prospect of Obama’s proposals creating economic havoc. As some Democrats in energy-producing states are learning, Obama may be getting laughs from coastal elites but his backing for environmentalist extremism may cost his party some Senate seats to the same Republicans he’s been mocking. While he may be thinking in terms of his 2008 boast about turning back the oceans, that seems a poor exchange for unpopular policies even if most Americans don’t agree with the skeptics.

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Wondering Just How Much More Damage Obama Can Do

In speaking about the new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that Jonathan refers to, NBC’s White House correspondent Chuck Todd told the Morning Joe crew

This poll is a disaster for the president…. You look at the presidency here: lowest job rating, tied for the lowest; lowest on foreign policy…  Then on the issue of do you believe you can still lead, and a majority believe not. Essentially the public is saying, “Your presidency is over” by saying a number like that. Fifty-four percent saying he no longer has the ability to lead and solve problems. That’s one of those things, you’re sitting at the White House going, “Oh, wow.”

Mr. Todd is right in that the poll shows tremendous erosion in support for for the president. And I understand what he means when he says the public is saying, “Your presidency is over.” But of course that is not, alas, so. Mr. Obama is still president, and he will be for two-and-a-half more years. That’s a long time for more mischief.

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In speaking about the new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that Jonathan refers to, NBC’s White House correspondent Chuck Todd told the Morning Joe crew

This poll is a disaster for the president…. You look at the presidency here: lowest job rating, tied for the lowest; lowest on foreign policy…  Then on the issue of do you believe you can still lead, and a majority believe not. Essentially the public is saying, “Your presidency is over” by saying a number like that. Fifty-four percent saying he no longer has the ability to lead and solve problems. That’s one of those things, you’re sitting at the White House going, “Oh, wow.”

Mr. Todd is right in that the poll shows tremendous erosion in support for for the president. And I understand what he means when he says the public is saying, “Your presidency is over.” But of course that is not, alas, so. Mr. Obama is still president, and he will be for two-and-a-half more years. That’s a long time for more mischief.

As we’re seeing in Iraq, the broader Middle East, and many other areas of the world, as well as here at home, even a politically weak president is showing he has the capacity to do enormous, sustained damage. And low approval ratings aren’t slowing him down all that much. He is using his executive authority and pursuing what is in many respects a lawless agenda in order to implement his vision for America.

I happen to believe the Democratic Party will suffer once again in a mid-term election because of it. But the president doesn’t really seem to care all that much. He is a progressive in a hurry. He wants to bend history in a certain direction, even if the American people aren’t inclined to go along with him.

Mr. Obama is doing much of what he set out to do. The fact that there is such a high human cost in the wake of this extraordinarily incompetent and misguided man’s presidency doesn’t appear to bother him at all. He is someone seemingly incapable of honest self-reflection, at times wholly unable to see the world as it is. Yet he continues to wield power, making one massive error after another. And the rest of us are left to wonder just how much more damage one person can do.

The answer, I fear, is quite a lot.

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Obama’s in Trouble, But This Isn’t 2010

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

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The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll is proof that the Obama presidency is sliding into irrelevancy. The president’s numbers, which show his personal approval, job approval, and confidence in his ability to manage the economy and conduct foreign policy all sinking to new lows, are clear evidence that the 2008 messiah of hope and change is running out of steam. Moreover, the president’s ratings aren’t merely a standard case of second term-blues. After the last year and a half of scandals in which his absentee management style has exacerbated chronic government problems and the collapse of his “lead from behind” foreign strategies, the Obama presidency is in crisis.

Amid a plethora of negative stats that emerge from the poll is one that ought to send shivers down the spines of Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama’s predecessor was a disaster whose failures always provide a standing excuse for any of the president’s shortcomings. The fact that the public now rates Obama’s competence in managing the government as being lower than that of George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the war in Iraq was also spiraling out of control illustrates how low the president has sunk in the public’s esteem. That the same poll now shows that a majority of Americans believe the president is no longer capable of leading the country in the right direction shows that with more than two and a half years left in the White House, the tipping point has been reach at which it is possible to assert that Obama’s second-term problems cannot be reversed.

While this is very bad news for the president and the country, which, whether or not you like Obama, desperately needs him to lead both at home and abroad, it is pretty good news for a Republican Party which is heading into the midterm elections with reasonable hopes of winning control of both houses of Congress this fall. But conservatives and GOP operatives who may consider this poll–and the many others that have been published this year that provide similar results–as being definitive proof that they are on the way to a 2010-style landslide need to rethink their optimism. The president’s troubles are serious, but the Republicans have plenty of problems of their own. Though the GOP has a better than even chance of winning control of the Senate and are odds-on favorites to hold the House, the same poll provides data that should encourage Democrats to believe they have a chance in 2014 and are set up to win again in 2016.

The problem for Republicans is that as bad as the president’s numbers may be, theirs are just as bad. After years of sinking approval ratings, the party’s negative image is beginning to look like it is set in stone. Part of this is due to the hangover from its disastrous collisions with Obama such as the 2013 government shutdown, but more of it is due to the perception that it is essentially leaderless and being driven by Tea Party activists rather than pragmatic statesmen. Liberal dominance in popular culture has also created endemic problems on issues like the environment, climate change, and gay marriage in which the GOP generally finds itself on the less popular side of many divisive issues. Immigration reform, which pits most though not all conservatives against the wishes of the vast majority of Hispanics, also creates a powerful obstacle to winning national elections.

The Democrats’ ability to portray the GOP as waging a war on women may be more a function of a successful propaganda campaign than fact. But it is nonetheless having a major impact on American politics as women, especially white women, have become the Democrats’ chief bulwark.

When one compares today’s numbers to those of June 2010, you rapidly see that although the Democrats are burdened with a president who is seen as largely incompetent, they are helped by data that shows Republicans to be underwater in ways that they were not four years ago. In particular, the party’s declining support among women and Hispanics as well as the far more negative image of the Tea Party today has altered the political landscape in a way that makes another midterm landslide less likely.

These factors do not change the fact that 2014 will be largely decided in red states where the president’s unpopularity may prove lethal to centrist Democrats seeking reelection. But they may lessen the chances for a midterm avalanche that might otherwise be expected in the middle of such a disastrous second term for the incumbent. It also goes almost without saying that these numbers show the Democrats to be in good shape heading toward the 2016 presidential election.

Throughout 2012 most conservatives and Republicans took it as an article of faith that Obama’s incompetence would lead to a GOP victory in November. They underestimated the importance of the president’s historic status as the first African American in the White House as well as their party’s growing problems among minorities and women. Those same problems may not prevent Republicans from winning back control of Congress this year, but they are enough to doom even a highly competent presidential nominee in 2016 unless something happens to change the way the public regards Republicans. Instead of spending the rest of the year counting their chickens before they are hatched, conservatives would do well to return to the business of trying to expand their base that many rightly concentrated on in the wake of their 2012 defeat. The alternative to such an effort will only lead to a repeat of that disaster.

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Dems Won’t Be Saved Again by the Tea Party

Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

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Yesterday’s primary results in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Idaho confirmed what has already become an obvious trend this year. Tea Party-backed candidates would not sweep to victory in Republican primary fights across the nation as they largely did in 2010 and 2012. That was good news for the so-called GOP establishment as well as for incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crushed his Tea Party challenger in a Kentucky landslide. But it is even worse news for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans blew golden opportunities to take winnable Senate seats from vulnerable Democratic incumbents in both the last two federal elections.

The results in Kentucky as well as in Oregon where the GOP nominated its strongest possible candidate in Dr. Monica Wehby and even in Georgia, where two mainstream candidates will face off in runoff, doesn’t mean that the Republicans are a lock to get to 51 Senate seats. McConnell is in for the fight of his life with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Wehby faces a tough incumbent in Jeff Merkley, and whoever wins the GOP nod in Georgia will not have an easy time beating Democrat Michelle Nunn. But if Harry Reid does hang on as majority leader it won’t be because the GOP was saddled with the kind of outlier candidates like the one that was largely responsible for reelecting the Nevada senator.

It bears repeating that those in the media who are treating this as an ideological shift in which moderates have triumphed over conservatives are mistaken. Though individual groups that claimed the Tea Party banner have attempted to transform a broad grassroots movement into something with a specific address and card-carrying members (while liberals have falsely imagined it to be the function of a few large conservative donors like the Koch brothers pulling the puppet strings of political operatives), the Tea Party movement was always something far more amorphous. It began as an inchoate push across the board from conservatives who were angry about the betrayal of what they felt were the party’s principles from big government Republicans in Congress as well as about the Obama administration’s billion-dollar stimulus boondoggle and ObamaCare.

In its first bloom in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012 that rise led to the nomination of people like Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who had no business getting major party nods. That happened because of the perception that their opponents were somehow part of the permanent governing class that had no compunction about increasing the debt in order to keep funding a government with no limits. But what has happened in recent years is that virtually the entire Republican Party has embraced Tea Party ideology when it comes to the big issues of taxing and spending. While the liberal mainstream media has always labeled Tea Partiers as being a bunch of wild-eyed extremists who were liable to be racists as well as at war with the federal government, the reality is that most of the voters and candidates who identify with the term are simply conservatives who are tired of business as usual Republicans.

What happened on Tuesday is not a situation where mainstream Republicans bested Tea Partiers and beat them on the issues. Rather, it was that voters were faced with candidates that largely shared the same views but understandably preferred more electable Republicans to those who were unlikely to prevail in November.

Indeed, this ideological shift is noticeable even among the Democrats who are being nominated to oppose these conservatives. Candidates like Grimes and Nunn are doing everything to distance themselves from President Obama and seeking to appeal to mainstream voters. While Democrats in blue states are veering to the left, those in the rest of the country understand that they must come across as being comfortable with the basic conservatism of most Americans. That’s good politics, and if the GOP lets them get away with obscuring their dedication to failed liberal policies, the Democrats will prevail.

But after years of the media echo chamber flaying the Republicans for being in thrall to extremists, GOP primary voters have taken that issue off the table. Without it, Democrats will be hard-pressed to hold the Senate.

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Can the GOP Define Dem Senate Challengers?

Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

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Today’s primaries in six states across the nation are providing a multiplicity of narratives, but the most popular is the one in which the Tea Party is being depicted as the big loser. If polls are correct those Republican candidates most closely identified with the Tea Party are set to lose to politicians who are backed by the so-called GOP establishment. But as with a number of previous elections in which Tea Partiers have lost, this is somewhat misleading. Though some running under the Tea Party banner, like Matt Bevin in Kentucky, are certain losers, that is more a reflection of the weaknesses of these individuals or the strengths of their opponents (in Bevin’s case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) than any lack of support for the cause of fiscal conservatism that first swept the nation in 2010.

But once the dust settles after today’s primaries the real question facing Republicans will not be about the future of a Tea Party that has already won due to the conversion of virtually the entire Republican Party to Tea Party principles about taxation and spending. Rather, it will be whether they can define Democratic opponents whose challenges in two key races threaten to prevent the GOP from taking back the Senate. While most of the attention has been focused on the GOP Senate primaries in Kentucky (where McConnell is fending off Bevin) and Georgia where a free-for-all has weakened the party and made a runoff likely, the Democratic standard-bearers are already known. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia’s Michelle Nunn both look to be formidable general-election candidates.

But more to the point, the GOP intramural fights have allowed both women, who already have the advantage of name recognition stemming from their famous politician fathers, to emerge largely unscathed to this point. While they can expect that to change once their opponents are named, the conceit of both of their campaigns is to run as centrists who are not identified with President Obama or his unpopular ObamaCare legislation. The question is whether or not it is possible for Republicans to convince the public that, in fact, both are liberals who will seek to implement the president’s agenda rather than pursue the centrist course they claim to support. If Republicans can’t define these two challengers in this manner, their chances of winning control of the Senate may be lost.

In Grimes’s case, she has already been under fire from McConnell’s formidable political machine but has, at least to date, been able to portray herself as a centrist alternative to a rabidly partisan minority leader, even if the senator’s primary opponent has absurdly blasted him as a liberal. She can expect those attacks to intensify in the coming months but it is not clear whether efforts to portray her as an Obama acolyte will overcome McConnell’s own low popularity in what polls show to be a dead heat.

But Nunn’s ability to get a free pass from the press and the GOP may have already compromised the Republicans’ ability to hold a seat being vacated by the retiring Saxby Chambliss. To date, Nunn has escaped much scrutiny for refusing to take a stand on most of the president’s policies, even refusing to say whether she would have voted for ObamaCare when it was passed in 2010 or what she would do about the deficit other than the usual empty clichés about stopping fraud and eliminating waste. Unless Republicans can effectively highlight this deceptive strategy, she has a decent chance of winning a Senate seat largely on the strength of being former Senator Sam Nunn’s daughter.

If Republicans want to see what happens to challengers–especially women who are newcomers to politics–when their opponents seek to define them as out of the mainstream, they should look to Oregon where the most formidable GOP Senate candidate seeking the party’s nomination today has been damaged by stories about her supposed stalking of a former boyfriend and husband. Dr. Monica Wehby gained national attention in the last month with her ad titled “Trust,” which featured the parent of one of the patients she treated in her capacity as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Wehby is pretty much a political consultant’s dream in that she is bright, principled, and has no political baggage. As such, she looked to have a better than average chance to put the seat currently held by Democrat Jeff Merkley into play despite the fact that Oregon is a very blue state. But the stories about stalking have put that in doubt. While any candidate is responsible for his or her own behavior, the willingness of Democrats to try to use what appear to be minor, non-violent personal disputes to depict her as a real-life version of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction shows just how miserable a business politics can be.

While Wehby may yet survive this siege, the lesson here for Republicans is that their opponents’ bare knuckles tactics illustrate just how far they are willing to go in order to hold their Senate majority. While hopefully the GOP won’t sink to that level in order to defeat Grimes or Nunn, neither can they sit back and just hope the voters will wake up and realize that electing them is a vote for Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid, not centrist politics. In an election that hinges on the GOP’s ability to hold its own seats while beating vulnerable Democratic incumbents, the ability to define challengers may be the key to the 2014 midterms.

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We’re Still Talking About ObamaCare Because Obama Designed It That Way

A reliable indicator of the troubled start to the age of ObamaCare is how much President Obama complains about the attention paid to his signature achievement. He is proud of it, supposedly, and thinks Democrats should be as well. Yet, puzzlingly, he’d really wish people would stop talking about it.

There are many reasons for this. To know ObamaCare is to despise ObamaCare, so to talk about ObamaCare is usually to criticize ObamaCare. Additionally, the president has been selectively implementing the health-care reform law as well as adding regulations to it, and he’d prefer the lawlessness and inherent cronyism of ObamaCare not be exposed to too much sunlight.

But complaining about people talking about ObamaCare is hypocritical for another reason: this is precisely how the president designed it. I don’t just mean his embracing of the ObamaCare moniker. Here’s the president in his own words, displaying the bitterness and resentment that has come to define his rhetoric:

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A reliable indicator of the troubled start to the age of ObamaCare is how much President Obama complains about the attention paid to his signature achievement. He is proud of it, supposedly, and thinks Democrats should be as well. Yet, puzzlingly, he’d really wish people would stop talking about it.

There are many reasons for this. To know ObamaCare is to despise ObamaCare, so to talk about ObamaCare is usually to criticize ObamaCare. Additionally, the president has been selectively implementing the health-care reform law as well as adding regulations to it, and he’d prefer the lawlessness and inherent cronyism of ObamaCare not be exposed to too much sunlight.

But complaining about people talking about ObamaCare is hypocritical for another reason: this is precisely how the president designed it. I don’t just mean his embracing of the ObamaCare moniker. Here’s the president in his own words, displaying the bitterness and resentment that has come to define his rhetoric:

Appearing at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event at a Potomac, Maryland, residence on Monday evening, the president said he wanted a national conversation between the two parties on the efficacy of government programs.

“But that’s not the debate that’s taking place right now,” Obama said. “The debate we’re having right now is about, what, Benghazi? Obamacare? And it becomes this endless loop. It’s not serious. It’s not speaking to the real concerns that people have.”

Americans, of course, still disagree. Here’s the takeaway from Gallup’s latest polling, with a particularly revealing phrasing:

American voters have a clearly differentiated sense of which issues will or will not be important to their vote for Congress this year. They give economy-related issues, including the distribution of income and wealth, along with the Affordable Care Act, above-average importance. Hot-button issues such as immigration and global warming, and issues that have been much in the news recently, such as foreign affairs and immigration, have below-average importance.

Not health care, but ObamaCare specifically–a change Conn Carroll noticed and pointed out on Twitter this morning. Indeed, in the poll, there is no result for health care, only ObamaCare. The category is called “The Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare’.”

As strange as it may sound, this makes a fair amount of sense–but Democrats should be the last ones complaining about it. That’s because the whole point of ObamaCare was to upend the entire health-care system, regardless of the fact that Democrats had to lie about it repeatedly and brazenly in order to get the bill passed. We’re long since passed the point where liberals can claim this is not government control of the insurance market and not be laughed out of the room.

ObamaCare’s coverage expansion rested on two pillars. The first was an explicit government program, Medicaid. It’s a failed and expensive program that in many cases is actually worse for the patient than having no insurance at all. It’s insurance, in other words, but often not really health care. The second pillar was to kick millions of Americans off their insurance policies and mandate by law that they buy a new policy. This aspect of ObamaCare is not designed to insure the uninsured. It’s designed to enable the government to control the health-insurance market by greatly restricting legal health-care plans, raising the prices for those the government thinks can pay and offering subsidies to those who can’t. Those who are permitted to keep their insurance plans will see their access to doctors restricted under ObamaCare and their premiums, in many cases, skyrocket.

It’s a scam, sure, but it’s a government scam. In reality, this means that even those who don’t buy insurance from the government will have their insurance impacted by the government in all sorts of ways. It becomes nearly impossible to avoid ObamaCare, even if you don’t depend directly on the federal government for your insurance under ObamaCare.

This was always the point, and it’s one of the great many reasons the law was so ill-conceived and had to be sold on false advertising. One of the central claims of ObamaCare’s backers was, as Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein hilariously asserted in January: “Here’s the biggest thing to know about Obamacare: Most people will never notice it.”

No one who understood the law or the basics of the health-care sector could possibly have written such a thing with a straight face. And the crafters of ObamaCare certainly didn’t plan it that way–however it was sold. So it’s not terribly surprising that Gallup has incorporated the reality of ObamaCare into its polling instead of relying on the administration’s propaganda. And it shouldn’t be surprising to the president that, now that the law has been passed, Americans are finding out what’s in it.

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Battleground Poll Points to GOP Victory

National polls can tell us a lot about the national mood, but if you want to get a grip on who will win the midterm elections, the only way to do it is to focus in on those who vote in contested House districts and states where Senate seats are up for grabs. That’s what Politico did with its latest poll published today and the results are likely to dampen some of the mild signs of optimism that Democrats have been exhibiting in recent weeks. According to the poll, likely voters say they favor Republicans over Democrats by a 41-34 percent margin. While each race will be won or lost by individual candidates rather than a generic party brand, this is another reminder that President Obama’s efforts to claim that he has conclusively won the debate on ObamaCare and other top issues will not help his party at the polls this November.

The results echo other polls of the entire country in which Americans overwhelmingly believe that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. With 60 percent of those in battleground areas believing that the debate on ObamaCare is not over and almost half calling for its outright repeal, the notion that a focus on health care will backfire on Republicans this year seems unfounded. Just as significantly, the list of top voter concerns should give cold comfort to Democratic strategists and liberal media outlets that have highlighted such issues as immigration or climate change. On a list of issues voters identified as their top priority, the economy ranks first with 26 percent while jobs and health care are the only others to register in double digits at 12 percent. Immigration and the environment get only three percent and two percent respectively. With the president’s job approval rating under water (59-40 percent negative) and voter enthusiasm also low in these areas, any hope of a surge in turnout that would benefit Democrats also seems unlikely.

But perhaps the biggest problem for Democrats is that, at least in those areas of the country where the minority of Americans will decide the 2014 elections, the liberal campaign to demonize congressional Republicans appears to have failed.

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National polls can tell us a lot about the national mood, but if you want to get a grip on who will win the midterm elections, the only way to do it is to focus in on those who vote in contested House districts and states where Senate seats are up for grabs. That’s what Politico did with its latest poll published today and the results are likely to dampen some of the mild signs of optimism that Democrats have been exhibiting in recent weeks. According to the poll, likely voters say they favor Republicans over Democrats by a 41-34 percent margin. While each race will be won or lost by individual candidates rather than a generic party brand, this is another reminder that President Obama’s efforts to claim that he has conclusively won the debate on ObamaCare and other top issues will not help his party at the polls this November.

The results echo other polls of the entire country in which Americans overwhelmingly believe that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. With 60 percent of those in battleground areas believing that the debate on ObamaCare is not over and almost half calling for its outright repeal, the notion that a focus on health care will backfire on Republicans this year seems unfounded. Just as significantly, the list of top voter concerns should give cold comfort to Democratic strategists and liberal media outlets that have highlighted such issues as immigration or climate change. On a list of issues voters identified as their top priority, the economy ranks first with 26 percent while jobs and health care are the only others to register in double digits at 12 percent. Immigration and the environment get only three percent and two percent respectively. With the president’s job approval rating under water (59-40 percent negative) and voter enthusiasm also low in these areas, any hope of a surge in turnout that would benefit Democrats also seems unlikely.

But perhaps the biggest problem for Democrats is that, at least in those areas of the country where the minority of Americans will decide the 2014 elections, the liberal campaign to demonize congressional Republicans appears to have failed.

One of the interesting sidelights of this poll can be gleaned from the low approval ratings both parties’ congressional caucuses received. In the poll, Republicans are slightly more unpopular with a 69-31 percent negative/positive rating to the Democrats 64-35 result. That’s a troubling gap, but nowhere the margin that Democrats had hoped for heading into 2014. Democrats have been working under the assumption that the stands that House Republicans have taken in the last year would sink them with the voters. Their refusal to enact immigration reform, climate change legislation, or to raise the minimum wage is assumed to be a liability. But even more than that, the president and his party thought last fall’s government shutdown would put the GOP under water for the foreseeable future. This result, while still showing the voters’ disapproval, indicates that the subsequent debate over ObamaCare has overshadowed if not completely erased any substantive advantage held by the Democrats.

It is possible to interpret the poll numbers as a sign that opinion is shifting on the health-care law with a slight majority favoring its retention, albeit with a significant number believing it should be altered. But the assumption that this shows that Americans are gradually accepting the law—and that it will cease to work for the GOP in 2016—doesn’t take into account the fact that much of the pain and dislocation that it will cause hasn’t yet been felt. With a lot of the unpopular mandates delayed until 2015, the potential for a negative impact on the economy as well as a surge of anger by those who have been inconvenienced by it is being underestimated. If ObamaCare can’t establish itself as a clear favorite of most Americans before this happens, it isn’t likely to happen after the mandates go into effect.

If the Politico poll shows, in the words of the site’s article about the survey, that ObamaCare is a “political anchor” for the Democrats in 2014, anyone who assumes that it will help them in 2016 is making a leap of faith that is unjustified by the data. 

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Sorry Harry, ObamaCare Debate Isn’t Over

Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to gloat about the fact that he hasn’t been hearing as much Republican rhetoric about ObamaCare in recent weeks. Parsing some partially favorable poll figures and attempting to connect the dots between those figures and President Obama’s touchdown dance over enrollment in the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat concluded that the GOP is in full retreat on the issue. In doing so, Reid spoke for many fellow liberals who think the long debate about the law is over or are least praying that it is. With, according to some sources, Democratic chances of retaining the Senate improving, the president’s party seems to think the crisis over ObamaCare has passed.

But before they start celebrating too loudly, Reid and the rest of the president’s cheering section in the Congress and the media should think again. Though the administration has managed to convince many in the press that the enrollment figures are synonymous with voter satisfaction with the scheme, there’s little reason to believe that public sentiment on the law has changed much. The current lull in the health-care debate should not be seen as a temporary cease-fire after months of furious discussion as both parties prepare for the midterms. If Reid thinks his endangered red state incumbent colleagues will be doing much campaigning about how proud they are of the law or that their opponents will not be attempting to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell him. Moreover, as Reid and Obama ought to know, no matter how much impact health care has on the outcome in November, the fact that most of the onerous regulations and mandates of ObamaCare will only go into effect next year virtually guarantees that the arguments will not only continue but will probably increase in virulence in 2015.

Reid says that he’s always been puzzled about how it is that polls have always showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of ObamaCare but are wary of scrapping it. He interprets these results as most waiting to see if it will succeed or fail. But as is the case with the attempt to assert that the numbers of those enrolled prove its success, this effort falls flat. That’s because a large number of those who are now relying on ObamaCare are also unhappy about losing their previous coverage and perhaps their doctors. They also don’t like the lack of choices available to them and are now paying more for services they never asked for or needed.

It’s clear that many of those who are now part of the scheme were not previously uninsured. While a minority of Americans are benefitting from the law, most have not yet been personally affected by the way it will transform the health-care system. Many are aware of the potential change that will occur in the next year and that has fueled anxiety about the law. Though, as Byron York noted in the Washington Examiner earlier this week, up until now most of those who have run up against ObamaCare haven’t liked it, that not insignificant number may increase exponentially in 2015.

Thus while a non-stop barrage of anti-ObamaCare efforts probably doesn’t make sense this far out from November, Democrats should expect Republicans to double down on their previous attacks as the midterms approach. Given the trouble the law has already caused, the coming dislocations will not be accepted passively by either the public or the president’s opposition. With so much of the law’s provisions yet to be implemented because of postponements designed to increase the Democrats’ chances of winning this year, the debate over ObamaCare is not only not finished, it has only just begun. 

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Democrats Concede They Can’t Run on Their Record

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said the key for Democrats is to frame the election as a choice between governing philosophies. “If it’s a referendum on whether you like the way Democrats have governed…that’s a harder election for us to win,” he said.

This is quite a revealing concession by Mr. Mellman. What he is basically saying is that if Democrats are judged on how they have governed, they won’t win. Democrats do not want to be judged on their results, to be held accountable, to be assessed on their governing record. And no wonder. The economy remains weak, the Affordable Care Act highly unpopular, and the mood of America sour.

Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal points out in his column that data from Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls show that by several measures, the current mood resembles–and in several instances is worse than–that of 2010, when Republicans made epic gains in congressional elections. 

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In an article in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said the key for Democrats is to frame the election as a choice between governing philosophies. “If it’s a referendum on whether you like the way Democrats have governed…that’s a harder election for us to win,” he said.

This is quite a revealing concession by Mr. Mellman. What he is basically saying is that if Democrats are judged on how they have governed, they won’t win. Democrats do not want to be judged on their results, to be held accountable, to be assessed on their governing record. And no wonder. The economy remains weak, the Affordable Care Act highly unpopular, and the mood of America sour.

Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal points out in his column that data from Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls show that by several measures, the current mood resembles–and in several instances is worse than–that of 2010, when Republicans made epic gains in congressional elections. 

For example, 65 percent of those surveyed believe things in the nation are headed on the wrong track (the figure was 60 percent in October 2010). Today 26 percent of Americans say the economy will get worse in the next 12 months (the figure was 20 percent in October 2010). President Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent this month; in October 2010, it was 45 percent. And today the preference for who controls Congress is split–45 percent/45 percent. In October 2010, Republicans led by two points.

Democrats, sensing this unease with their governance among the citizenry, want to divert the public’s attention away from their record of failure. My guess is that this won’t work; and even if Democrats do succeed in not making it a referendum election, a debate over governing philosophies is one Republicans should win. Because theirs actually is better.

After nearly six years of the Obama presidency, that should be a fairly easy case to make.

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The Myth of Political Wave Elections

In today’s Politico Magazine, crack “Crystal Ball” poly sci professor Larry Sabato breaks down the chances that this year’s midterm elections will be a Republican wave that will allow them to take the Senate away from the Democrats. Sabato’s analysis of each of the dozen or so Senate races that will decide this question is on target. But I have a problem with the way he and just about everyone else in the political punditry business tends to speak about congressional elections from a purely national frame of reference. Sabato accurately discusses the various local quirks to each of these state races. But his chart summarizing these contests classifies the possible outcomes in terms of what kind of wave will develop in November.

The various results run the gamut from the “calm seas” that Democrats hope for (in which no seats change hands), “ripples,” “small breakers,” and “sea wall holds” (in which the GOP gains seats but not enough to form a Senate majority), to outcomes that Republicans would like such as “sea wall breached,” “gale force white caps,” “tropical storm wave,” “tidal wave,” and “full tsunami” (in which they take back the Senate). It’s all good fun to play this game and is probably as good a way as any to make sense of an election that is, in fact, more than a dozen different elections. But that’s the problem with these reductive analyses. As much as it makes it easier to understand midterm elections to think of the verdict of the voters of all these states as being part of one comprehensive and easily understood narrative of Democratic or Republican victory, the truth is always going to be a lot murkier than that.

Whether the Republicans get their hoped for “tsunami” or the Democrats sail happily along in “calm seas,” what will happen this November will actually be the product of a host of differing and often contradictory narratives that can only be cobbled together into one story after the fact. While one party or the other may emerge triumphant this year, and perhaps spectacularly so, the notion that this will be the product of a genuine national wave is a myth.

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In today’s Politico Magazine, crack “Crystal Ball” poly sci professor Larry Sabato breaks down the chances that this year’s midterm elections will be a Republican wave that will allow them to take the Senate away from the Democrats. Sabato’s analysis of each of the dozen or so Senate races that will decide this question is on target. But I have a problem with the way he and just about everyone else in the political punditry business tends to speak about congressional elections from a purely national frame of reference. Sabato accurately discusses the various local quirks to each of these state races. But his chart summarizing these contests classifies the possible outcomes in terms of what kind of wave will develop in November.

The various results run the gamut from the “calm seas” that Democrats hope for (in which no seats change hands), “ripples,” “small breakers,” and “sea wall holds” (in which the GOP gains seats but not enough to form a Senate majority), to outcomes that Republicans would like such as “sea wall breached,” “gale force white caps,” “tropical storm wave,” “tidal wave,” and “full tsunami” (in which they take back the Senate). It’s all good fun to play this game and is probably as good a way as any to make sense of an election that is, in fact, more than a dozen different elections. But that’s the problem with these reductive analyses. As much as it makes it easier to understand midterm elections to think of the verdict of the voters of all these states as being part of one comprehensive and easily understood narrative of Democratic or Republican victory, the truth is always going to be a lot murkier than that.

Whether the Republicans get their hoped for “tsunami” or the Democrats sail happily along in “calm seas,” what will happen this November will actually be the product of a host of differing and often contradictory narratives that can only be cobbled together into one story after the fact. While one party or the other may emerge triumphant this year, and perhaps spectacularly so, the notion that this will be the product of a genuine national wave is a myth.

The assumption in all wave analysis projections is that the voters in the various states where competitive Senate seats are being contested are going to tell us something about the way national issues are influencing them. Thus, pundits read the polls and the tea leaves to ponder the impact of the unpopularity of ObamaCare, the sluggish economy, as well as whether Democratic themes about the faux “war on women” and misleading rhetoric about “income inequality” are going to be decisive factors. We also assume that the president’s own declining poll numbers and the public’s answer to the generic poll question about the direction of the country will be high or low enough to determine how rough the seas will be for members of his party.

It would be foolish to assume that any or all of these national factors are not going to influence the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate next year. It would be equally wrongheaded to think that the relative enthusiasm of the bases of the two parties—a factor that is determined largely by national rather than local concerns—will not help determine the outcome. But when discussing the most competitive Senate races, the more one looks at them individually, the easier it is to see that they each one is almost certainly going to be decided by factors that have little to do with national trends and everything to do with the particular circumstances and candidates in the individual state.

Take Arkansas, for instance. It is a deep-red state where Obama, ObamaCare, and the Democrats’ whole litany of issues are unpopular. The Republicans also have an able and popular Senate candidate in Rep. Tom Cotton, who has the added distinction of being a war veteran. But nonetheless Senator Mark Pryor is still ahead in the polls. Though Sabato wisely discounts the most recent poll that showed Pryor with a double-digit edge, it’s still obvious that the incumbent’s ability to play to the center is keeping him in the hunt.

In Louisiana, Mary Landrieu should also be on life support but is staying in the race through traditional patronage tactics and voter familiarity with her family brand (a factor that also helps Pryor).

In Alaska, Mark Begich won in 2008 on a fluke that was the product of an unjust federal prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens. But he’s got an even chance in that profoundly conservative state because of the local quirks of politics there in which independent-minded voters often overcome national trends.

The same is true of a number of other states where the relative strengths of the individual candidates will tell us more about who will win than poll numbers about ObamaCare or the president.

In the end, all these local factors may break one way or the other and we’ll call it a wave election. But don’t be deceived. It’s a rare midterm that is truly decided by national factors. Even those midterms that produced a one-sided outcome, such as the GOP’s 2010 Tea Party wave, the Democrat’s 2006 anti-Iraq war wave, or the 1994 Newt Gingrich Republican revolution wave, were bolstered by a flock of one-off outcomes that were less about the big issues we all focused on and more about local scandals or problems. Like all political science terminology, which seeks to create systems and patterns that can be applied across the board, these waves are all individual events that cannot be repeated. As the late Tip O’Neill famously said, “all politics is local.” The quicker we grasp that fact, the better our understanding of the midterms will be.

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ObamaCare Remains a Bust with the Public

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

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But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

I say that because after President Obama announced that more than seven million (and later more than eight million) Americans had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage, the assumption among the White House, liberals, and the elite media was that public opinion would begin to shift rapidly in favor of Obamacare. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was supposed to mark the closing of one (bad) chapter and the beginning of another (good) one. 

The American people would rethink their opposition to Mr. Obama’s signature domestic program. What had been a political negative for Democrats would be transformed into a positive. Or so we were told. But reality intruded yet again.

According to the Washington Post’s Scott Clement and Aaron Blake:

In just one week, a barrage of national polling has reached the same verdict: Obamacare’s Rocky Balboa-esque announcement that 8 million people have signed up for health care has done absolutely nothing to reverse the law’s basic and long-standing unpopularity.

A new high of 55 percent disapproves of the law in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll. And the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll, a Post-ABC poll and a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week all found little lasting changes from earlier this year — when the law was at the heart of its implementation struggles.

Messrs. Clement and Blake argue that attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act are deeply entrenched and “Americans’ biggest complaints about the health law are pretty well etched in stone. They existed well before the Web site’s troubles, and the number of Americans who sign up for the law was never the root of the opposition.” Many of the public’s complaints will be hard, if not impossible, to overcome, they write. 

It isn’t uncommon for wishful thinking to characterize a president and a party about to experience yet another massive mid-term election setback. And my guess is that Democrats will continue to convince themselves that the Affordable Care Act isn’t a burden, and may even be a benefit, until around mid-day Tuesday, November 4, 2014, when the election returns will begin to come in and Democrats will learn just what a political disaster ObamaCare is. We’ll then see how many of them connect the dots and accept that it’s a political catastrophe because it’s a substantive catastrophe. 

That will probably take a good deal more time, since a political party can only absorb so much grief and inconvenient truth at a time. 

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Watching the Obama Presidency Die

The news for Democrats, already bad this year, just got worse. Consider this story in the USA Today:

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan “waves” in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away — a lifetime in politics — at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president.

The specific data point worth focusing on is that registered voters favor a generic Republican over a generic Democrat by four points (47 percent v. 43 percent). As USA Today points out, “[The GOP] lead in the generic congressional ballot is the biggest at this point for Republicans in the past 20 years. In 1994, when the GOP would gain control of the House and Senate, Democrats held a 2-point advantage in the spring of the election year. In 2010, when Republicans would win back the House, the two sides were even.”

That’s not all.

By more than two-to-one, 65 percent v. 30 percent, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones. By more than two-to-one, Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. And by more than two-to-one, 40 percent v. 17 percent, they assess the nation’s economic conditions as poor, not excellent or good. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed rate their financial situation as “only fair” and 23 percent call it poor.

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The news for Democrats, already bad this year, just got worse. Consider this story in the USA Today:

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan “waves” in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away — a lifetime in politics — at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president.

The specific data point worth focusing on is that registered voters favor a generic Republican over a generic Democrat by four points (47 percent v. 43 percent). As USA Today points out, “[The GOP] lead in the generic congressional ballot is the biggest at this point for Republicans in the past 20 years. In 1994, when the GOP would gain control of the House and Senate, Democrats held a 2-point advantage in the spring of the election year. In 2010, when Republicans would win back the House, the two sides were even.”

That’s not all.

By more than two-to-one, 65 percent v. 30 percent, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones. By more than two-to-one, Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. And by more than two-to-one, 40 percent v. 17 percent, they assess the nation’s economic conditions as poor, not excellent or good. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed rate their financial situation as “only fair” and 23 percent call it poor.

By a ten-point margin, 53 percent v. 43 percent, those surveyed say the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote–and those who say they feel that way are more likely to support the Republican contender. In addition, 26 percent say they think of their vote as a vote against Obama while only 16 percent as a vote for him.

The mid-term elections are still six months away, but the political landscape for Democrats is perilous. And the odds are as good or better that things will get worse, not better, for Democrats between now and November.

The American public, at least at this point, seem intent on deliver a stinging rebuke to President Obama, his party, and liberalism itself. The left, knowing this, is going to become even more desperate, more ad hominem, and more deranged in their attacks.

It won’t alter the outcome. We are watching the Obama presidency die. The cause of death? Massive incompetence. Flawed ideology. And the Obama agenda coming into contact with reality.

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Treacherous Political Terrain for Democrats

This week several national polls were released. If you shift through and aggregate the data, they spell trouble for Democrats in the mid-term elections later this year. Here’s why.

Historically, mid-term elections in the second term of a presidency are rough on the party in power. In this case, the president’s overall approval rating is in the low-to-mid 40s, meaning Senate Democrats in red states (where the president’s approval ratings are even lower) need to run roughly 10 points ahead of Mr. Obama to win. That’s tough.

In addition, by several key metrics Democrats are in worse shape now than they were at a comparable time in 2010, when Republicans won the most lopsided mid-term election since before the middle part of the last century. The generic ballot right now is essentially tied, which is historically good news for the GOP. Voter intensity favors Republicans, while some key Democratic constituencies (like young voters) are losing interest in politics. The president’s policies are generally quite unpopular, with little evidence that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing (independents oppose it more than they favor it by double digits). The economy remains sluggish (growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.1 percent). There is widespread pessimism in the country and near-record distrust of government.

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This week several national polls were released. If you shift through and aggregate the data, they spell trouble for Democrats in the mid-term elections later this year. Here’s why.

Historically, mid-term elections in the second term of a presidency are rough on the party in power. In this case, the president’s overall approval rating is in the low-to-mid 40s, meaning Senate Democrats in red states (where the president’s approval ratings are even lower) need to run roughly 10 points ahead of Mr. Obama to win. That’s tough.

In addition, by several key metrics Democrats are in worse shape now than they were at a comparable time in 2010, when Republicans won the most lopsided mid-term election since before the middle part of the last century. The generic ballot right now is essentially tied, which is historically good news for the GOP. Voter intensity favors Republicans, while some key Democratic constituencies (like young voters) are losing interest in politics. The president’s policies are generally quite unpopular, with little evidence that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing (independents oppose it more than they favor it by double digits). The economy remains sluggish (growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.1 percent). There is widespread pessimism in the country and near-record distrust of government.

The political landscape for Democrats, then, is treacherous, and the president knows that another blowout in a mid-term election will not only complicate the last two years of his presidency but also damage his legacy. 

In response, the White House seems to have settled on a strategy of trying to energize its base voters, which means the president is going to focus on “wedge issues” rather than common ground with Republicans; and ratchet up rather than down his polarizing language.

My guess is the president and his party will gain relatively little electorally from this. On the flip side, he will continue to discredit what was once his most appealing quality as a political leader–his promise that he would put an end to “the politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism”; that he would not pit red America against blue America; and that he would help Americans to “rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”

No one believes that has happened, and in fact polls suggest Mr. Obama to be the most polarizing president in the history of modern polling. Democrats will blame Republicans for the bitter nature of our politics while Republicans will say that the responsibility for this rests with him rather than his critics. Whatever the case, there is no dispute about the fact that the president has failed to achieve his core commitment when he first ran. Having to explain failure is never a good position for a president to be in; but that is the situation Mr. Obama finds himself in these days, on issue after issue.  

The Obama presidency continues to come apart. 

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Sinking Poll Results Debunk Dem Optimism

Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

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Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.

The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.

Breaking the numbers down on an issue-by-issue analysis, it’s clear that the country’s chronic problems are still damaging the president’s poll numbers. The 54-42 percent margin of disapproval for Obama’s handling of the economy remains the Democrats’ big problem heading into a congressional election where they are already at a disadvantage because of the need to defend so many of the Senate seats won in the president’s 2008 victory. The 57-37 percent result with respect to disapproval of the way Obama handled the rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is also, despite the early April happy talk, an impenetrable obstacle to Democrats seeking votes in non-blue states. Given that the poll was conducted in the aftermath of the administration’s efforts to hype what they considered to be the success of the health-care law, this is a staggering blow to those liberals who have been insisting that its popularity would finally begin to grow after years of the majority of Americans opposing the measure.

Nor can Democrats take their usual solace from the unpopularity of Congress and their faith that House Republicans will always be blamed more for the country’s problems than the administration. When asked to apportion responsibility for the country not being on the right track (respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction by a staggering 66-30 percent margin), 40 percent said it was both parties’ fault with 18 percent blaming the president and the Democrats and only six percent saying it was the fault of the Republicans in Congress. This dovetails with the answers to the question about whether it was necessary to have the Congress in the hands of Obama’s opponents so as to put a brake on his agenda.

The poll also should dispel Democratic optimism about ObamaCare’s popularity growing.  As the Post’s Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill report:

The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January. Half of all Americans also say they think implementation is worse than expected.

Last month, a Post-ABC poll found 49 percent of Americans saying they supported the new law compared with 48 percent who opposed it. That finding was more positive for the administration than most other polls at the time. Democrats saw it as a possible leading indicator of a shift in public opinion, but that has not materialized.

But what is also interesting is that foreign and defense policy—issues that have been a source of strength for the president—may now be a distinct liability. Whereas the president was able to portray himself as tougher than Mitt Romney in 2012 by reminding voters who was the one who ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing, the humiliations he has suffered on Syria and now Ukraine have undermined that narrative. Indeed, fewer Americans approve of the president’s handling of the Ukraine crisis (34 percent) than of the way he managed the ObamaCare rollout (37 percent) with large majorities disapproving of both.

The Democrats are not without assets heading into November. Their dominance on social issues as they beat the drums for their faux “war on women” campaign against the GOP is something they hope to exploit. Their embrace of a populist message on income inequality may be economic snake oil but it also has traction with much of the public. But, as the Post points out, Obama’s popularity is now roughly comparable to that of George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency. That is a depressing reminder for Democrats who have been seeking a reason to believe that they would somehow beat the odds and history and not suffer the usual walloping that the party in power gets during the midterm election of a second-term presidency. Despite the early April optimism about the Democrats that the administration’s media cheerleaders have been feeding the public, the outlook remains grim for a president sinking inevitably into lame duck irrelevance.

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Democrats and the Forever (Culture) War

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

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The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll is quite miserable for Democrats, and party strategists will no doubt mine the data for clues as to how to recover their standing before the midterms. There are two obvious choices: reinforce the party’s strengths–that is, where they best Republicans in the minds of the voters–or seek to improve their numbers on issues weighing them down. Unfortunately for those hoping for a more substantive debate on the issues this fall, the they are likely to choose the former.

That means, in a nutshell: get ready for an aggressive escalation in the “war on women.” Here’s the Post’s summary of the issues that favor Democrats and those that favor Republicans:

Democrats have a significant advantage on eight issues, from health care to climate change to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats have a smaller advantage on immigration, and the two parties are roughly equal on the economy. Republicans have the edge on three — guns, the deficit and striking the right balance on which government programs to cut.

Where Democrats have the biggest advantages are on the same contrasts that helped Obama win reelection in 2012 — indicators of which party voters believe is on their side. By 52 to 32 percent, those surveyed say they trust Democrats to do a better job helping the middle class, and by 55 to 25 percent, they trust Democrats on issues that are especially important to women.

The Post notes that there isn’t much evidence that such issues could turn the Democrats’ electoral momentum around. They tend to be base issues, but the usual drop in turnout for non-presidential years means Democrats are likely to need a broader coalition. To do that, they would need to make headway on ObamaCare. The Post details the split on the left on how to do that, shining some light the fact that the Obama White House might be a more significant obstacle for them than Republicans:

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that 8 million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. …

A number of Democratic strategists are urging their candidates to campaign on a message that calls for continued implementation of the law, with some fixes. These strategists say that message is more popular than the “repeal and replace” theme of the Republicans.

Democrats want to be able to offer legislative fixes to ObamaCare. This is perfectly logical; even if Republicans are correct about all the damage the law is doing, it’s easy to see why an argument that rolling “fixes” to correct the immediate ObamaCare-caused crises would appeal to those currently experiencing those crises. Republicans in Congress are amenable to this, having supported legislation to unburden the public with some of the more damaging aspects of ObamaCare.

But Obama doesn’t want such legislative fixes, for two reasons. First, he’s not exactly Mr. Humility. He tends, instead, to live in a bubble and simply ignore the facts that conflict with his ideological inflexibility. He prefers “the debate is over” and “the Affordable Care Act is working” to something more nuanced and self-critical. Second, the changes he does make to ObamaCare are done quietly (see reason No. 1) and lawlessly, by executive discretion. He doesn’t see a reason to pass new legislation when he’s ignoring the legislation it’s built on. You have to admit, there’s a certain calculated rationality to it.

But Democrats are united on the “war on women” they’ve invented, and will thus seek new ways to press this delusion. At times, this produces some unintentional comedy, as when male Democrats use this playbook against female Republicans. Male Democrats running on the “women hate women” platform are probably going to struggle to connect to any voters not already in their camp. One example of this was Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, who is running against Terri Lynn Land. Land’s response was priceless, and appropriate.

More broadly, Democrats use the “war on women” construct to argue for unlimited abortion, one of the more divisive social issues of the day. And the Post notes they possess an advantage on the issue of gay marriage, which, along with the Obama administration’s insistence on taxpayer funded birth control, has become a centerpiece of the left’s efforts to punish thought-outliers and erode religious liberty. If the Democrats are going to double down on their perceived strengths for the midterms, that will likely mean firing many more shots in the culture war. And with the party prepared to anoint Hillary Clinton two years later, don’t expect it to let up any time soon.

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The Fierce Urgency of After the Midterms

The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

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The apocalyptic rhetoric from environmental groups has always put them in the spotlight, which can be a blessing and a curse: it helps their funding, though their dire predictions and alarmist proclamations are tested. But surely even worse for the greens’ prophetic pretensions than having to revise their forecasts of doom is their wavering sense of urgency when political expediency demands it.

And so while environmentalists make no secret of their fervent opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline extension, they’re also revealing that they are following the familiar trajectory of left-leaning interest groups by starting out as principled issue activists and becoming yet another Democratic Party adjunct. As the Hill reported yesterday:

Centrist Democrats who support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline might not get the cold shoulder from green groups this fall. 

Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who’s challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was the latest to buck her party’s leaders when she announced this week she supports construction of the pipeline. 

Democrats from conservative states have joined with Republicans in supporting Keystone XL, which they argue would create jobs and improve the country’s energy independence. In addition to Grimes, at least seven other Senate Democratic incumbents or candidates have supported its construction so far. 

But even though green groups have fought tooth and nail to block the oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. over environmental concerns, they aren’t making the issue into a litmus test for Democratic candidates they consider supporting.

Instead, organizations with environmental priorities are weighing Keystone along with other top environmental issues when deciding who to throw their weight behind.

They’ve spent a tremendous amount of effort on treating Keystone as a cause worth fighting for. And the fight has been good for their bottom line. As the New York Times reported back in January, “no one disputes that the issue has helped a new breed of environmental organizations build a mostly young army eager to donate money and time.” So why wouldn’t they live up to the hype and make this a litmus test issue?

Here’s the justification from the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, as reported by the Hill: “The action fund has made the strategic conclusion in this cycle to focus on climate change, and, specifically, the president’s climate plan.” So Keystone just isn’t much of a “climate change” issue then? On the contrary, says … the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Building the 875-mile northern segment of Keystone XL would lead to a dramatic increase in the carbon pollution that worsens the effects of climate change. Hence, construction of the pipeline fails the all-important carbon test the president laid out in his June 2013 climate address to the nation, when he said Keystone XL’s permit would be approved only if the pipeline “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The dissembling makes it pretty clear just how the environmentalists choose their “litmus tests.” Another clue comes from the indications that President Obama has delayed a decision on Keystone in order to kill the pipeline deal after the midterm elections. That flies in the face of the science on Keystone, which effectively rebuts the greens’ anticommerce propaganda. But it is perfectly synchronous with the demands of Tom Steyer, the billionaire writing large checks to finance Democratic campaigns, especially those who fight Keystone.

Why wouldn’t Steyer demand–since he can, apparently–that the pipeline project get its rejection notice immediately, if it’s truly the right thing to do? Because while that would follow the professed principles of Steyer and others in the environmentalist far-left, it would also make life tougher for embattled Democrats in non-loony states who don’t want to oppose the commonsense job creator Keystone represents. This way, they can run in support of Keystone without suffering any consequences.

Now, you might say, that doesn’t sound quite so principled. Enabling Democrats to run in support of Keystone while plowing money into attacking Republicans because they also support Keystone would appear to elevate partisanship over principle. And aside from Steyer’s business interests, he appears to be mulling a political career of his own, possibly as a candidate for California governor. Initially, he seemed willing to attack Democrats who supported Keystone; as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel noted, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu was, at first, on the list:

Mr. Steyer then spent some quality time with senior Democrats, who presumably explained that the establishment would not look kindly on a would-be governor who blew their control of the Senate. Ms. Landrieu came off the list, and Mr. Steyer has downgraded his criteria for playing in races to whether “something important” is at stake.

Despite the unhinged rhetoric from high-profile Democrats–for example, Harry Reid calling conservative political activism “un-American”–Steyer and the greens are perfectly entitled to participate in the electoral process. It’s just helpful to know that it’s about power and electing Democrats, not the Earth hanging in the balance.

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Running on OCare: the Landrieu Test Case

Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

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Testing conventional wisdom at the ballot box is often tougher than it looks, and that’s likely to be the case in this year’s congressional midterms, when Democrats either run on or away from ObamaCare. It was widely assumed that Democrats would run away from the unpopular mess of arbitrarily applied regulations, and that it would be a millstone around the necks of Democrats across the country, especially those who voted for it.

Mary Landrieu, however, would appear to be bucking that trend. The Louisiana Democratic senator is, on paper, a perfect candidate to test ObamaCare’s drag on congressional Democrats. Not only did she vote for it, but as a senator her vote took the bill farther than an individual vote in the House, where the bill had a larger margin for error than in the Senate. On top of that, Landrieu was one of the last to throw her support behind the law, magnifying her apparent impact. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the reason she voted for it: the so-called Louisiana purchase, which appeared to put an official price on her vote.

Landrieu, then, can’t exactly avoid her support for it, especially in a year when Republicans won’t let the law’s congressional enablers off the hook. So Landrieu is doing something that should make Democrats pleased, for a few counterintuitive reasons: she’s running on ObamaCare:

Senator Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable of red state Democratic incumbents, and her reelection challenges — like those of other red state Dems — are said to be all about Obamacare.

But in an interview today, Landrieu vowed to campaign aggressively against GOP foe Bill Cassidy’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion in the state, offered a spirited defense of the law — while acknowledging it has some problems — and even insisted he’d be at a “disadvantage” over the issue. …

Landrieu has been a vocal proponent of a “keep and fix” message on Obamacare. But Republicans have argued Dems aren’t actually offering any fixes. Landrieu noted she’s advocating for making the provision of coverage voluntary for businesses with fewer than 100 employees and adding a more affordable “copper” plan. She reiterated her support for the law’s goals — and said Cassidy’s embrace of repeal would be politically problematic for him.

“It’s a solid law that needs improvement,” Landrieu said. “My opponent offers nothing but repeal, repeal, and repeal. And even with all the law’s setbacks, we’re seeing benefits for thousands of people in Louisiana.”

Democrats are probably cheering this decision. Since Landrieu can’t escape her support of the law, she’s going to at least be a loud voice proclaiming the benefits of ObamaCare. If she loses anyway, she’d have infused the debate with pro-ObamaCare talking points that other Democratic candidates, who would rather pretend not to have heard of ObamaCare, would be too timid to use but whose voters might hear them from Landrieu.

Additionally, Landrieu has a lead in the polls. It’s not enough, as it stands, for her to avoid a run-off, but it gives her an early boost. If Landrieu runs on ObamaCare and wins, Democrats will have avoided a major pitfall both in trying to keep the Senate and in pushing back on the narrative that ObamaCare is, broadly, a political loser. Beyond that, Democrats have some reason to be confident: as Jonathan detailed earlier this month, Landrieu is using her access to federal funds to lavish benefits on key voting demographics, which gets her extra votes and prevents local Republican officials in those districts from organizing opposition to her candidacy.

And that aspect of the race is also a good reminder of the difficulty of grading individual state-level elections on national issues. Republicans, however, won’t have much room to back out of their insistence on ObamaCare’s potency if Landrieu wins. Democrats will (accurately) assert that Republicans were the ones who wanted that particular fight, and they’ll be able to argue she ran on ObamaCare and won. If she loses, Republicans will have that argument in their corner, having thus defined the race.

But Democrats will certainly be paying close attention, because Landrieu is setting out the model on how to run on ObamaCare: “Will I defend the good parts of the Affordable Care Act? Yes. Will I urge improvements to parts that can be fixed? Absolutely.” If Democrats can notch a win ostensibly on ObamaCare in what many expect to have been the toughest year for the law since the 2010 midterms, they’ll almost surely export that strategy to future elections. But if it turns out voters merely liked their recently granted federal goodies more than they hated ObamaCare, the unpopular reform law will continue to follow them around election after election, when the goodies stop coming but the bills for their constituents’ insurance premiums don’t.

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Dems May Regret Steyer’s Keystone Payoff

After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

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After a lengthy study of the plans for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department issued an 11-volume report back in January confirming what most experts had already concluded long before then: the vital project would not damage the environment or increase the rate of carbon pollution. But liberal activists weren’t happy and have used the 90-day automatic review process that followed that report to furiously lobby the administration to stop the construction of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries. The key player in that effort was Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental extremist who has pledged to give $100 million to Democratic candidates who do his bidding. Though President Obama has flirted at times with doing the right thing and letting the project proceed, the result of the push from Steyer and the rest of the global warming alarmist crowd was as predictable as it was politically motivated. In a Friday afternoon news dump to guarantee minimal news coverage, the State Department announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision on approval of Keystone.

Like the numerous delays of implementation of many of the provisions of ObamaCare, the delay in the final decision on Keystone is blatantly political. By putting it off until after this year’s midterm elections, the president is hoping to both assuage left-wing donors who are essential to his party’s waning hopes of holding on to the Senate and to allow vulnerable red-state Democrats to avoid blame for a decision that would hurt the economy and the cause of energy independence. But though this seems like an astute compromise that will allow the president to play both ends against the middle, it is a case of the administration being too clever by half. Far from helping the cause of Democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, the Keystone delay has handed Republicans an issue with which they can batter these incumbents. Though liberals like Obama have sought to demonize GOP donors like the Koch brothers for trying to buy votes to advance their libertarian agenda, the Keystone decision is nothing less than a $100 million payoff to Steyer.

In her usual role as administration apologist, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was trotted out today on NBC’s Meet the Press to deny that the decision was politically motivated. But like so much of what comes out of Wasserman Schultz’s mouth, that assurance has zero credibility. The bottom line here is that a shovel-ready jobs project that will be good for the American economy and energy independence has been shelved, perhaps forever, because of the Democratic party’s dependence on a small group of environmental extremists with disproportionate financial and political clout.

Keystone critics howl about what they claim will be the negative impact on the environment from Canada’s recovery of oil from the sands of Alberta. But their claims are largely unproved. And, as far as the U.S. is concerned, spiking the pipeline won’t stop Canada from getting the oil out of the ground and shipping it somewhere. The only question is whether the resources will be kept in North America or sent to China or some other place.

Obama’s delays of Keystone are a symptom of an administration that talks about wanting to promote jobs but is far more interested in sweetheart deals like the Solyndra boondoggle than in getting the government out of the way of the private sector on projects that could actually put a lot of people to work. While their focus on alternatives to fossil fuels seems admirable, it actually betrays hostility to economic development and industries like oil refinement and coal that remain essential to the country’s future.

The Keystone delay is also symbolic of the way Obama’s indifference to energy independence has hindered U.S. foreign policy. At a time when European dependence on Russia as well as the Middle East has hampered efforts to defend Ukraine’s independence or to rally the world behind the cause of stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, the administration’s politically-motivated foot-dragging on Keystone is more evidence of how an unwillingness to lead by example has hamstrung Obama.

But the bottom line of the Keystone delay is that for all their talk about the Kochs and the supposedly malevolent forces financing the right, there is no longer any doubt that this administration is far more dependent as well as more in the pocket of men like Steyer than the Republicans are on any single contributor or group. When faced with a choice between Steyer’s $100 million and doing the right thing for both the economy and energy independence, Obama’s decision was never really in doubt. Democrats who think voters are too stupid to make this connection may rue this corrupt and foolish move in November.

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