Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

Obama’s Immigration Punt Won’t Work

Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

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Analyses of President Obama’s decision not to make good on his pledge to use executive orders to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants are focusing today on the political implications of the move. But the notion that punting on immigration will save the Senate for the Democrats may be mistaken. By telling us that he is only putting off actions that bypass Congress until after the midterm elections, the president won’t disarm Republicans who are running against his lawless behavior while at the same time depressing liberal activists and minorities that Democrats desperately need to energize. It may be that his handling of this ill-considered proposal has worsened an already perilous situation for his party.

The story of the plan for the president to unilaterally implement his own immigration reform package is one that highlights all of Obama’s characteristic shortcomings: poor planning, indecision, a willingness to throw his own party members under the bus to cover up his own faults, and a lack of principle.

Let’s start with the fact that the president’s basic premise underlying his June announcement that he planned to implement immigration proposals by the end of the summer was an end run around the Constitution. The fact that Congress did not pass the immigration reform package he favored does not give the president the right to act on his own. Immigration reform is needed, but the failure of the bill he favored was due to concerns over the breakdown of border security that now seem even more justified than they were before because of the surge of illegals whose arrival was due largely to a belief that the president’s pledges about granting permanent status would apply to them as well as to the millions already here. But whatever one may think about the issue, the president is wrong to think he has the power to disregard constitutional checks and balances.

Yet he did so to the cheers of many in his party, the media, and a Hispanic community that has been frustrated by the gap between the president’s immigration promises and the reality of an administration that has stepped up deportations of illegals. In June, the assumption was that the president was operating under the belief that executive orders that would provide the “amnesty” conservatives have long feared would amp up his base and help Democrats. Polls showing that most Americans thought immigration reform a good idea were seen as providing cover for Democrats who believed the president was going too far.

Had the president issued his orders then it would have inflamed Republicans and earned applause from Democrats. But instead of acting, he did what he always does: he thought about it. But as with other instances of his Hamlet act getting in the way of policy decisions, by the time the end of the summer came, circumstances had changed. Not only had the border surge changed the minds of many Americans about the wisdom of dealing with the illegals here before the border was secured, it was also clear that many of the Democrats that Obama is counting on to hold the Senate for him opposed the president’s plans for unilateral action. The delay gave members of both parties time to disassociate themselves from any effort to bypass both Congress and the Constitution. Not only was there no immigration consensus to fall back on but the intervening months had also produced a new consensus against Obama’s desire to govern alone and to trash the rule of law.

Under these new circumstances, Obama’s decision to delay action was seemingly politically wise, especially since many Senate Democrats were pleading with him not to do it. Yet it’s not as simple as that. Had the president pondered the issue for months without having publicly said he would do it by the end of the summer, a punt on the matter would have worked. But after three months of damaging debate on the issue, it is probably too late to defuse GOP anger. With the president merely postponing such action until after the midterms, the issue remains an easy one for GOP candidates to use against Democrats.

But choosing to spurn the desires of his base (while also blaming the initial promise of action on Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer rather than the president taking personal responsibility for the blunder) isn’t good politics either. The Democrats desperately need minorities and especially Hispanics to turn out in something close to the numbers they did in 2008 and 2012 when Obama was on the ballot. By choosing to cynically discard the issue in the face of criticism, he has depressed his core constituencies in an election that will, as is the case with most midterms, be determined by the enthusiasm of the party bases. When you consider that it’s entirely possible that some of the key red-state Democrats he’s trying to save may already be doomed, this supposedly smart political move seems even dumber than it did at first glance.

Put it all together and you have a scenario in which Obama’s partisan boasts, indecision, and ultimate cynicism has given Democrats the worst of all possible worlds in 2014: an energized conservative base and a distinctly unenthusiastic liberal core.

Digging even deeper into this issue, if the president is really serious about unilateral immigration moves after the election, does he really think it will be easier for him to do this after the country has already rejected his party at the polls? The only possible advantage to the Democrats in the president making good on his June pledge was the possibility that some Republicans would overreact and try another government shutdown in response this fall. But by punting, Obama has made that impossible and possibly saved conservative Republicans from themselves.

While the president’s belief in his power to act without Congress on immigration is wrongheaded, his handling of the politics of this issue has been uniformly foolish from start to finish. Punting on immigration won’t work and it may also make the next two years even more dismal for Obama and the Democrats than we might have thought.

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Is Obama Conceding the Senate to the GOP?

For some advocates of more liberal immigration laws, the next month may be the most crucial in recent history. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez told the Washington Post, President Obama “is going to determine his legacy with the immigrant community in the next 30 days.” But while most members of the president’s party are ready to cheer executive orders bypassing Congress that will effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants, those Democrats facing tough reelection fights know such moves will effectively decide the 2014 midterms.

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For some advocates of more liberal immigration laws, the next month may be the most crucial in recent history. As Rep. Luis Gutierrez told the Washington Post, President Obama “is going to determine his legacy with the immigrant community in the next 30 days.” But while most members of the president’s party are ready to cheer executive orders bypassing Congress that will effectively legalize millions of illegal immigrants, those Democrats facing tough reelection fights know such moves will effectively decide the 2014 midterms.

The president signaled back in June that he would use Congress’s failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill as an excuse to act on his own to address the problems in the immigration system. No details of the planned moves have yet been released but, as the Post reports, many on both the left and the right anticipate that the executive orders will indefinitely delay deportation for millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States and to provide green cards for relatives of U.S. citizens. That means that those illegals who have had children since arriving in the United States would effectively be granted legal status, raising the total of those granted a form of amnesty by these measures to encompass the vast majority of those here without permission.

While opponents of immigration reform blanched at any measure that would grant illegals the right to stay in the country, let alone a path to citizenship that a green card would give them, these unilateral moves are far worse than anything contained in the bipartisan bill that was passed by the Senate but blocked in the House. That bill put heavy penalties on the illegals and forced them to the back of the line for citizenship while also heavily reinforcing security at the border. But Obama’s unilateral plans really would be a form of amnesty without any real penalty or action to prevent another wave of illegal immigration.

This is terrible policy since, as this year’s crisis at the border demonstrated, even the president’s past statements about letting illegals stay has generated a massive influx of new migrants who believe that once they get across the border by any means they won’t be sent home even if they are caught. Enacting such a measure unilaterally at the whim of the president rather than through congressional action would further undermine the situation at the border as well as undermine the rule of law.

You don’t have to oppose immigration reform to recognize the problem here. All recent presidents have used executive orders and, in fairness to Obama, his predecessor George W. Bush used the tactic extensively when it suited him. But there is a difference between chipping away at the margins where presidential authority is already established and the White House simply governing on its own as if congressional approval of legislation is a mere technicality that can be waived if the president is really sure that justice is on his side.

The notion that the president has the right or even the duty to act on his own in this fashion because the House refused to pass an immigration bill turns the Constitution on its head. Acting in this manner would trash the checks and balances of the American system and establish an essentially anti-democratic precedent in which any president could flout the will of Congress and the Constitution if he didn’t get his way.

But the danger here is not just to the Constitution. If the president decides to push ahead with these measures in the months before the midterms, he may be effectively writing off the already diminishing odds of his party holding onto the Senate. For beleaguered red state Democratic incumbents like Mark Prior in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagen in North Carolina, or even a purple state senator like New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, executive orders on immigration will feel like a stab in the back from the White House.

Concerns over illegal immigration were already a potent issue for Republicans in states where Hispanic voters—who are more sympathetic to undocumented immigrants—aren’t a major factor. But if the president does an end run around the Constitution in order to enforce his will on immigration it will be a disaster for endangered Democrats. Candidates like the aforementioned incumbents as well as Alison Grimes, who is providing the president’s party with one of its few shots at knocking off a Republican senator, are already trying to run away from Obama. Republicans are already favored to take control of the Senate. But with a few strokes of his pen, the president could ensure a far larger GOP majority next year than most pundits are now envisioning.

If Republicans play this right, they could ride Obama’s extra-constitutional behavior to a repeat of their 2010 landslide. But there’s also the chance that conservatives could play into the president’s hands and sabotage their chance to emerge in November with control of both Houses of Congress. In my next post, I’ll discuss the possibility that the president’s decision is actually a cynical effort to entice the GOP to try another futile government shutdown or impeachment.

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Is Hillary Rooting for a GOP Senate?

For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

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For Democrats looking for some early consolation heading into a midterm election in which their party seems fated to suffer the loss of the Senate, the New York Times provides some comfort. A piece by John Harwood in today’s paper claims that while a Republican Senate would blight the last two years of the Obama presidency, it might well guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But while there is a superficial logic to his thesis the notion that the former secretary of state should be rooting for Mitch McConnell to become majority leader next January is a bit of a stretch.

The argument that a Republican Senate would help Clinton’s presidential hopes is simple. If the GOP controls both the House and the Senate heading into the 2016 election, that will make it even easier for Democrats to run against what they will undoubtedly label a “do-nothing” or “obstructionist” Congress. The confrontations between the Republicans and the White House would escalate in 2015 with the president seeking to govern on his own via executive orders. At the same time, as Politico notes in an interesting preview of 2015, McConnell is planning a series of actions meant to stymie Obama’s attempts to circumvent constitutional checks and balances that could lead to a veto battle and Republicans daring Obama to shut down the government in order to force them to fund his pet projects. These struggles will feed into the media’s favorite meme about dysfunctional government in which both parties will, not without some justification, be damned as part of the problem rather than the solution.

But the notion Harwood advances that this will allow Clinton to present herself as an outside-the-Beltway figure who is not tied to this fracas is hard to swallow.

The longer an unpopular president and his more-unpopular partisan adversaries battle to a standstill, the easier it is to offer herself as a fresh start.

“It would be bad for the country,” said Stanley B. Greenberg, President Bill Clinton’s former pollster, but “total gridlock would allow Hillary to be the change.”

Mrs. Clinton has had as many political personality changes as she’s had hairdos in her decades in the public eye, but the idea that this grizzled veteran of Washington could present herself as “the change” that voters want is laughable.

Clinton’s in a strong position to win the presidency no matter what happens in November 2014. As the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, unless a credible left-wing alternative emerges to force her to abandon her criticisms of Obama’s foreign-policy failures, she has already begun the pivot to the center that most candidates can’t attempt until after they’ve won their party’s nod. More than that, as the potential first woman to be elected to the presidency, she has a compelling narrative as well as the loyalty of most party activists even if they are to her left on many issues. And with so many Republicans defending Senate seats in 2016 as the class of 2010 seeks reelection, Democrats will, with the help of their traditionally large presidential-year turnouts, have a chance to take the Senate back.

But after hanging around the capital in one guise or another and engaging in some of the nastiest gutter fights there for more than 20 years, Clinton can’t pretend to be a breath of fresh air in hyper-partisan Washington. Nor, after serving as secretary of state for four years, can she completely evade the tag of running for a third term for the Obama administration.

Just as important, if, as is likely, the next two years are marked by more bitter partisan warfare, the likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 won’t be able to stand aloof from Obama’s struggles with Congress. While the GOP House and Senate will undoubtedly make for attractive targets for Clinton’s scorn, that will tie her even more closely to Obama’s autocratic governing style rather than allowing her to distance herself from his troubled presidency. Republicans will be able to point out that Clinton’s own positions on the environment and immigration will make her just as likely to try to override the will of Congress as Obama has been.

As Harwood points out, President Obama will likely see a Clinton victory as the best chance to solidify his legacy. So will the voters. Moreover, Clinton’s opponent in 2016 won’t be McConnell or House Speaker John Boehner, much though she would love to run against either of them. In contrast to Clinton, the Republican nominee may turn out to be someone who actually is from outside the Beltway or one of those members of the Senate who are seeking to stop the business-as-usual approach to politics that Clinton embodies.

It may be that Clinton’s strengths will enable her to overcome the handicap of being tied to an unpopular and unsuccessful incumbent. But a Republican Senate won’t make that any easier. The loss of the Senate will be a body blow to liberal plans to expand government even more than Obama has already done. Doing so may not stop Clinton from winning in 2016, but it won’t make it any easier for her either.

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Another Nail in the Dems’ Senate Coffin?

Just when pundits were starting to agree that the odds are tipping in favor of the Republicans winning control of the Senate this November, reports of inquiries about potential misconduct by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu may make the embattled Red state Democrat’s re-election fight may be another nail in her party’s midterms coffin.

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Just when pundits were starting to agree that the odds are tipping in favor of the Republicans winning control of the Senate this November, reports of inquiries about potential misconduct by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu may make the embattled Red state Democrat’s re-election fight may be another nail in her party’s midterms coffin.

The story, published Friday night by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, reveals that in response to charges from her Republican challengers that she has been paying for campaign expenses, including flights, from official government funds rather than her private account, the senator has ordered an inquiry into the records of her office during the last 18 years she has been in the Senate. While the senator may hope this gesture may quiet her critics, the inquiry by her own legal counsel will not convince many people of her innocence even if it exonerates her. If anything, it draws more attention to allegations that could be both embarrassing and result in serious ethics charges.

Unfortunately, for the senator, her lawyer won’t be the only one looking into her affairs. On Thursday, CNN reported that Landrieu had reimbursed the Senate the $5,700 charge for a charter flight home from Washington for a campaign appearance. Anyone who thinks that was the first such instance in which the Louisiana senator has played that trick is probably willing to buy a bridge across the Mississippi. If the Senate Ethics committee, or the Justice Department were to do some serious digging into her records, the results might require more than a mere reimbursement check.

Will this tip what was already looking like a dead heat between Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy into a likely GOP pickup? It’s hard to say.

Landrieu may be a Democrat in a state that votes Republican in presidential elections but she is a formidable politician. As I noted back in April, her strong constituent service and expertise in bringing home federal dollars to Louisiana has given her more than a fighting chance and even the neutrality, if not support, of some local Republican officials. Her family name is a popular brand in the state stemming from the ability of her father Moon, to manage to be that rare Louisiana Democrat who didn’t wind up in jail at some point during his career. Though there were plenty of questions raised about corruption involved in the building of New Orleans’ Superdome and other projects built while he was mayor, the former congressman, secretary of Housing and Urban Development and federal judge was never charged or convicted of anything. The same is true of Landrieu’s brother Mitch, the current mayor of the Big Easy.

But an even bigger edge for her is that the culture of politics in the state is such that ethical violations are rarely seen as fatal to the future of an officeholder the way they are in other, less easygoing places. To take just the most recent example, David Vitter, Landrieu’s Republican colleague in the Senate, survived his involvement in a prostitution scandal and may well succeed Bobby Jindal as governor of Louisiana in 2015. The list of Louisiana politicians who served jail time, let alone those who labored under ethical clouds, in the last century is too long to include in this piece. Suffice it to say that in the context of that state’s politics, looting the public treasury to pay for a campaign doesn’t exactly make Landrieu an outlier.

Nevertheless, the timing of the revelations isn’t going to help her just at a time when polls recently showed Cassidy to have finally caught and passed the incumbent, albeit by a statistically insignificant one percentage point margin.

Her difficulties are also significant because of all the endangered red state Democrats Landrieu seemed to be the one most likely to survive a tough challenge. If this race starts slipping away from her, then the chances of the Democrats holding the Senate will rest on Kay Hagen in North Carolina and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Both are currently trailing their GOP opponents with the race to hold another Democratic seat in Iowa also starting to look like an uphill slog.

It won’t take much to tip any one of these elections from one party to the other. Which means that even in ethically challenged Louisiana, Landrieu’s using taxpayer dollars to fund her electioneering might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a Democratic Party that needed its Senate candidates to run perfect campaigns to have a chance to keep control of one house of Congress this fall.

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Obama Is Killing Dems’ Senate Hopes

Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

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Heading into the 2014 campaign, most analysts agreed that control of the U.S. Senate hinged on the survival of a few key red state Democrats and the one vulnerable Republican incumbent: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the latest poll out of Kentucky provides some very bad news for Democrats for which they can blame one person: Barack Obama.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling issued the first survey of the contest between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes published in the last month. It shows the GOP leader with a 5-point lead. That still leaves Grimes within reach of the Republican. But it also represents a gain for McConnell over previous polls issued over the summer. That’s a disappointing result for Grimes after what supporters saw as a strong launch to her campaign as anti-McConnell broadsides began to fill the airwaves in the Bluegrass State. Just at the moment when she might have been expected to eliminate the razor-thin lead McConnell has been nursing throughout the year, it appears the Democrat is starting to lose ground.

That has to be particularly frustrating for Grimes and the Democrats because the secondary polling data still shows McConnell to be extremely vulnerable. The same poll shows McConnell to have a 54-37 negative favorability rating, the kind of figures that normally spell doom for any incumbent. But though Grimes is a relatively fresh face with a good political pedigree, she isn’t particularly well liked either. Her 45-41 negative favorability isn’t as bad as McConnell’s but it shows that despite the hype about her in the liberal mainstream media, she hasn’t favorably impressed Kentuckians. Though there is still plenty of time for her to recover and overtake McConnell, skepticism is growing even on the left that this is possible.

These numbers show that even liberal prognosticators are starting to write Grimes off. Statistical guru and 2012 presidential election pundit superstar Nate Silver had already rated McConnell’s chances of winning reelection at 80 percent last week. That’s bound to go up even higher now. The New York Times Upshot blog (which replaced Silver’s “Five Thirty-Eight” when he went independent updated their prediction today about Kentucky to an 85 percent chance of a McConnell victory.

That means the Democrats’ margin for error in holding onto their Senate majority may now be so small as to make it highly unlikely that they can prevail in November. Silver rates the GOP as having a 60 percent chance of running the Senate next year. Upshot rates it at 55 percent.

The explanation for this trend isn’t hard to discern. Everyone seems to agree that unlike 2010, this year’s midterms won’t be a “wave” election in which a tidal wave of support for one party will lift all boats and create a landslide. But with the one vulnerable GOP senator looking like a likely winner and a number of red state Democrats fighting for their lives the Republicans don’t need a wave. All they do need is to remind voters in GOP-leaning states which candidates are supportive of President Obama. After all, the only person more unpopular in Kentucky than McConnell is the president. Obama has a staggering 63-32 percent negative approval rating there.

Republicans may have counted on anger about ObamaCare or some of the administration’s other scandals to lift them to a nationwide victory. That hasn’t quite materialized but general dissatisfaction with the president looks to be sufficient to drag Democrats down in red states and keep even McConnell safe. With the world in chaos and the president showing no leadership abroad and only a desire to whip up partisan anger at home, there is little reason to believe that Democrats can reverse historic trends that show the incumbent party losing big in a second term midterm. While Grimes will be blamed if she fails to take down one of the least liked (though most effective) members of the Senate, rather than focusing on her shortcomings and lack of preparation for the big stage, Democrats would do better to realize that Obama has gone from being their greatest asset to their biggest problem.

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Border Mess Won’t Help Democrats

Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

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Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

Speaker John Boehner wound up having to cancel a vote on a measure aimed at providing extra funding for the situation at the border due to a revolt from conservatives within his own caucus that was incited, according to some reports, by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Though the Democrat-controlled Senate also failed to pass its own bill about the crisis, the spectacle of Boehner being once again thwarted by a major revolt from within his own party had returned.

That was bad enough. But even worse, as Charles Krauthammer noted last night on Fox News’s Special Report, was the fact that Boehner compounded matters by then saying that President Obama taking unilateral action could address the lack of funding. As Krauthammer said:

“It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law, as he has done a dozen times illegally and unconstitutionally, and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law, contradict the law that passed in 2008 and deal with this [the border] himself.”

Krauthammer is right. Boehner’s stance was “ridiculous.” But no more ridiculous than the spectacle of a new GOP leadership team finding itself unable to manage its caucus even on an issue when Republicans should been eager to act so as to maintain the pressure on the administration over a situation that Republicans have aptly criticized as a man-made crisis largely the fault of President Obama.

This fiasco revived talk about the incompetence of congressional Republicans as well as the way their Tea Party faction still seems to call the tune on difficult issues such as immigration. It was enough to set liberal pundits and Democrats boasting that Boehner’s disaster could change the narrative of the midterm elections and help cost the GOP their chance to win control of the Senate this fall.

But while Boehner’s bad day won’t help Republicans, the claim that this will alter the course of the midterms is, at best, an exaggeration, and, at worst, a misperception that will lead the Democrats to misread the seriousness of the threat to their hold on the Senate.

First, it should be understood that as bad as Thursday was for the GOP, their ability to rebound from this confusion and craft a new compromise that will enable them to pass a bill today that will undo some of the damage. By passing a bill that will make it easier to deport illegal immigrants and fund the crisis on the Rio Grande, Republicans can at least depart Washington saying they have done no worse than the Democrats who weren’t even able to pass their own version of a bill on the issue.

But while President Obama railed at them for producing a bill that couldn’t pass the Senate, he is just as guilty of refusing to compromise as Boehner’s crew. The Democrats may have gained a bit of an advantage this week but if they think the border crisis is going to help them this fall, they are dreaming.

In the long run, a failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform will hurt the Republican Party with Hispanics and make their path to an Electoral College majority in 2016 even more steep than it already is. But in terms of the midterms, this is an issue that does enormous damage to the Democrats in many of this year’s battleground states. Support for a more lenient approach to the influx of illegal aliens may exist but the debacle at the border lends strength to the argument that security must precede any path to legal status for those who cross it without permission. If Democrats in red states think they can run by defending a failure to secure the border or to deport illegals, when that is something that has been encouraged by the president’s misjudgments and statements, they are mistaken.

As foolish as Boehner looked yesterday, Democrats must face up to the fact that the only national theme to this year’s elections will likely be the lack of confidence in the president. After all, no matter how incompetent the GOP House looks, the president is still the president. It will take more than a ridiculous day on Capitol Hill to erase that fact from the voters’ memory.

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Cantor Checks Out Early; Will It Matter?

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

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When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

It was a major coup for Cantor’s relatively unknown GOP challenger, Dave Brat. He had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups, outspent by a wide margin, and didn’t have much name recognition. So he seemed content to wait for the general election, in which he was favored, and to take his spot in the House and begin to work his way up the ladder. But today, plans were changed. Cantor announced that, whereas right after the election pains were taken to stress that the outgoing leader was leaving his leadership post but not his seat, he is now apparently doing the latter as well. As the New York Times reports:

Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican whose last day as House majority leader was Thursday, said on Friday that he would resign his seat effective Aug. 18 in hopes that his successor will be able to participate in the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Mr. Cantor, 51, made the announcement in an op-ed article published on The Richmond Times-Dispatch website. …

Mr. Cantor, who has served in Congress for 14 years, said that he would ask Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, to call a special election for his seat on Nov. 4 — the same day as the general election — a move that would allow the winner to take Mr. Cantor’s seat immediately rather than wait for the next Congress to be seated in January. The winner would also enjoy seniority over the other Representatives first elected that day.
Mr. McAuliffe told the newspaper that he was “heartsick” about Mr. Cantor’s loss because the state was losing a senior voice in Congress, but there was no indication whether he would honor the request for a special election.
Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District is conservative, which would favor Mr. Brat’s chances in November, when he will face the Democratic nominee, Jack Trammell, and James Carr, a Libertarian. Both Mr. Brat and Mr. Trammell are professors at Randolph-Macon College.

The advantages are clear but limited. The Times originally wrote that the winner of the election, if held in this manner, would gain Cantor’s seniority. That’s not the case, and the article has since been corrected. If he wins, Brat would have seniority over the others elected that day, as he would take office before them. Had he been able to take over Cantor’s seniority, Cantor’s exit strategy would be clear. As it stands now, the benefits are a bit hazy, other than giving his Virginia district a slight advantage over other seats won by new members that day.

Larry Sabato says it’s self-interest and generosity, for Dave Brat will reap the benefits. Robert Tracinski says it’s self-interest (a head start on his post-congressional career) with a touch of boredom (he’s given up on the lame-duck session producing anything worth staying in the House over). I imagine we’ll find out more after he actually steps down later this month.

Conservatives, in this case, might as well pay more attention to the effect and less to the intentions at play. The lame-duck session may very well turn out to be more important than it might seem at the moment, depending on the results on Election Day. If the midterm elections produce a GOP wave, it’s possible the Senate will change hands, or else come very close. If Republicans make significant gains, the lame-duck session will be the Reid-led Democrats’ last chance during the Obama administration to make good use of their Senate majority.

Of course, their initiatives would not get very far in the House, so there are even limits here. But Reid’s actions in the Senate are not meant to enact legislation and fix problems as much as they are to manipulate a gullible media into portraying Republicans in the most negative light possible. As such, the Democratic Senate’s actions mostly consist of publicity stunts. The exception is for judicial and other nominees, which Reid can get confirmed by using the nuclear option, which he cannot do if he’s in the minority. If the midterms go well for the GOP, expect Reid to go on a two-month binge, in which case yes, the lame-duck session will matter some.

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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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