Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

Iran Appeasement at Stake in Midterms

American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

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American elections are always closely watched by foreign nations. But there may no more interested observers of tonight’s midterm results than the leaders of Iran. The ability of the Obama administration to pursue détente with Iran and to cut a new weak deal that will enable the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state may rest on the ability of President Obama’s party to hold onto control of the Senate.

The administration’s zeal for a deal with the Iranians appears undiminished by Tehran’s decision to continue to impede the efforts of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to discover what is going on at their nuclear plants. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the IAEA has made public the fact that there has been no progress made in getting access for inspections despite a year of negotiations. The Iranians are, as is their wont, continuing to run out the clock on the West on those talks. At the same time they are stringing the U.S. along in its efforts to broker a deal despite reports of far-reaching concessions that would allow it to keep their nuclear infrastructure in any agreement.

Given the growing sentiment in Europe for ending economic sanctions on Iran, there is no guarantee that watering down the terms of an agreement even more will entice the Islamists to sign a deal ending the standoff. Yet given the administration’s signals about treating this issue as their top foreign-policy priority, it seems likely that Obama will get some kind of an accord that will enable him to say he has addressed the world’s concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran even if it does little to diminish that threat.

Obama’s ability to do as he likes on Iran stems in no small measure from the president’s ability to get the Democratic majority in the Senate—and in particular, Majority Leader Harry Reid—to do his bidding on the issue. Though a bipartisan proposal for toughening sanctions on Iran if the talks failed had overwhelming support in the Senate last winter, including the vocal advocacy of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Reid was able to spike the effort. If, as the administration has indicated, it will seek to bypass congressional approval for any new Iran deal, the president knows he can count on Reid to perform the same service this year despite complaints from fellow Democrat Menendez. But with the GOP in control of the Senate, the administration will have a lot less leeway in their pursuit of appeasement.

If a deal is signed, the president and his cheering section in the media will, no doubt, go all out to label any skeptics of the agreement as warmongers in much the same manner as they did last year. In order to end sanctions on Iran, a key requirement for Tehran in any accord, the president will suspend enforcement of the laws. But getting rid of them will require congressional action that is unlikely to occur. More to the point, Congress will have an opportunity to respond to an end run around the Constitution that requires Senate approval of all treaties with new sanctions on Iran.

Interestingly, the International Business Times speculates today that a switch in control of the Foreign Relations Committee could work to Obama’s advantage. If, as expected, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker replaces Menendez and Democrat Dick Durbin becomes the ranking member instead of Republican Mark Kirk, the IBT thinks this pair is more likely to do Obama’s bidding on Iran than the current team.

But that underestimates support throughout the Senate and on the committee for tougher sanctions on Iran. More to the point, the “sanctions mongers,” as the IBT refers to opponents of Iran appeasement, will likely have the backing of the putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With or without a new weak deal with Iran, the odds are, Republicans in both the House and the Senate will pass a bill similar to the one proposed by Menendez and Kirk last year which sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire on Iran.

Those who think a GOP-run Senate will back Obama’s play on Iran are underestimating the skepticism about the president’s policy in Congress as well as the deep concern for Israel’s security in the GOP at a time when, as Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic column illustrated last week, the administration’s is seeking to chill relations with the Jewish state.

That’s why it won’t be just U.S. political junkies staying up tonight to see if Reid or McConnell is running the Senate next year. The ayatollahs understand their ability to manipulate a U.S. government that they have pegged as a weak negotiating partner may be dependent on the outcome.

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John Oliver and the Sum of All Liberal Fears: Local Government

The saddest trend among left-liberal political “comedians” is not that they have become a source of actual news for leftists who find the real world a scary place–though the influence of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and others is certainly disturbing. Far worse, however, is that instead of making those in power uncomfortable or seeking to overturn society’s taboos, they are merely working in the service of political correctness and the powerful federal government that seeks to regulate speech and, increasingly, thought. They are the opposite of subversive; they are court jesters.

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The saddest trend among left-liberal political “comedians” is not that they have become a source of actual news for leftists who find the real world a scary place–though the influence of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and others is certainly disturbing. Far worse, however, is that instead of making those in power uncomfortable or seeking to overturn society’s taboos, they are merely working in the service of political correctness and the powerful federal government that seeks to regulate speech and, increasingly, thought. They are the opposite of subversive; they are court jesters.

I’ve written about this in the past, specifically with regard to the Giacomo of American politics, Stephen Colbert, who will be taking his palace service to David Letterman’s soon-to-be-former perch at CBS. It’s not that Colbert’s succession there will change anything material; the point is that it won’t. But Colbert’s talent and creativity is undeniable, to me at least, and I think that’s something of a saving grace among many conservatives who will still watch him entertain the king or queen. The same cannot be said for another Daily Show alumnus, John Oliver, who now has his own show making fun of the news (read: flattering the political leanings of his audience), mostly by yelling at the screen.

Despite that, Oliver has his fans on the left, who don’t seem to notice Oliver’s, shall we say, resplendent ignorance on some of the topics he covers. But in a recent episode, Oliver revealed just how frightening the idea of American participatory democracy is to the left.

The segment was on state legislatures, and how elections for those are crucial yet overshadowed by the congressional midterms. He opened the segment with about five minutes of clips of state and local legislators doing and saying absurd things, to lay the groundwork for the argument at the center of his show: the danger of self-rule of those who don’t think like Oliver. After showing the clips, Oliver said the following:

Look, state legislatures are hilarious. There’s only one problem: increasingly, they are the places where most legislation is actually taking place.

That is a pretty succinct sum of all liberal fears. The people are hilarious–as long as they have no power. Democrats tend to feel this way about Congress too, not just local governments. But Oliver and his ilk don’t fear Congress the same way. That’s because, he continued:

So far this session, Congress has passed just 185 laws. State legislatures have passed more than 24,000.

Just 185 laws? How many new laws should the United States Congress enact per session? In any event, Oliver goes on to castigate the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a favorite bogeyman for the conspiratorial fringe of the left, which connects issue-based NGOs and private-sector groups with legislators. The left has sought to demonize and blacklist such groups, the way they have with regard to much political speech and action.

Oliver’s conspiratorial authoritarianism is perfectly calibrated to the American left today, which helps explain his success. But liberals are also allowed to participate in local government, so what scares them so much about the building blocks of participatory democracy? Via Dave Weigel, we get the answer:

Remember the number: 69. That’s how many state legislative bodies Republicans are trying to win this year, out of 99, up from the 60 they control right now. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, composed entirely of senators, a bit like Rome but with fewer coups.) That would give them a “state legislature supermajority,” and allow them to push through the sort of policy reforms that will be quickly gummed up in a Washington that—let’s be honest—will spend six or seven months passing bills before everyone gets excited about 2016.

“We’re on offense this year,” says Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. “We’re confident in the path not just to a supermajority, but in a more diverse group of elected Republicans.”

The RLSC groups this year’s elections in a couple of tiers. The first tier is composed of New Hampshire‘s House of Representatives, where Republicans lead the generic ballot and have been closing the gap in statewide races; Colorado‘s Senate, which was reduced to a one-seat Democratic majority by pro-gun 2013 recall campaigns against Democrats; Iowa‘s Senate, which Republicans can win with one more seat; Nevada‘s Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority in a year that turnout has been suffering; West Virginia‘s House, where an easy win for the GOP’s Senate candidate may elect the four Republicans needed for a swing; and New Mexico‘s house, where Republicans need three gains, and expect to benefit from a strong win for Gov. Susana Martinez.

Well that explains it. Republicans are having a good year, and are–unlike the Democratic Party–not pretending that the president is an elected king and thus the only office that truly matters. Of course, Democrats are pursuing congressional seats as well. But that’s to block Republicans’ ability to check President Obama’s power. When Democrats held the majority in both houses of Congress in Obama’s first term, they used it to simply increase Obama’s power. Congress, for Democrats, is really about the presidency.

What about the local level? That’s where Americans can influence the way their communities are governed. Thus, the whole idea of local governance is terrifying. John Oliver has exposed a massive conspiracy at the heart of the American project: here, the people rule. And he can’t believe no one’s doing anything about it.

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Midterm Sour Grapes, Tea Party Edition

Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

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Democrats aren’t the only ones feeling gloomy today. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party will retake the Senate and increase its majority in the House, some Tea Party conservatives look around the country at the GOP’s roster of candidates and say they’ve been cheated. Rather than win by nominating hard-core right-wingers wherever possible, the party has, instead, put forward a more mainstream electoral cast including many that have been labeled, whether fairly or unfairly, as establishment types. That leads people like Erick Erickson to label today’s results a “hollow victory” in a Politico Magazine article. But while many Tea Partiers may share some of his frustration about the GOP establishment, they should reject his reflexive disgust and embrace this opportunity to not only act as a break on the Obama administration’s liberal agenda but to actually govern.

Let’s concede that Erickson and other Tea Partiers are not crazy to be suspicious about the Republican leadership. They remember what happened the last time the GOP had control of both houses of Congress. The reason there is a Tea Party movement is due to the fact that during the George W. Bush administration, the party was rightly perceived to have embraced a tax-and-spend mentality that helped dig the country a hole that it has not yet climbed out of. The pointless discussions about who is a RINO (Republican in name only) inevitably descend into tests of purity whose aim is to demonstrate which conservatives are holier than anyone else. Yet the question of who is a big-government Republican is a serious one that should influence the new freshman class of Senators and Representatives to avoid the mistakes made during the reign of error presided over by former Speaker Denny Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

But Erickson’s animus seems not to be so much focused on whether the next Republican majority will avoid the temptations of big government and resume spending like drunken sailors as it is on those that sought to avoid the kind of disasters that cost the party golden opportunities to win the Senate in 2010 and 2012. Erickson is still angry with national Republican political consultants such as Karl Rove and people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who worked hard to recruit Senate candidates based on whether they could win rather than on their conservative purity. The result was that Tea Party insurgents in states like Kansas and Mississippi were defeated and establishment Republicans won.

Not all of these decisions were wise. Certainly, the GOP must look back at the effort to ensure that Pat Roberts was given the party’s Senate nomination rather than a Tea Party rebel with some mixed feelings. Roberts is the poster child for out-of-touch incumbents who richly deserve to be retired rather than given a ticket for another six years in Washington. If Roberts loses his Kansas seat today—especially if the GOP falls one seat short of a majority—Tea Partiers will never let the establishment live that one down. Conservatives also still have hard feelings over the way the party leadership went all-out to save incumbent Thad Cochran in Mississippi even though he is another senator that grew roots in D.C. and replacing him as a nominee would not have cost the party the seat.

Erickson also takes a shot at Thom Tillis in North Carolina and David Perdue in Georgia. Both are not incumbents but still represent an establishment mentality that provides voters with unattractive choices rather than a fresh and principled conservative alternative.

This critique is consistent with the theme we’ve heard from many conservatives about the pitfalls of Republicans nominating so-called moderates for president like John McCain or Mitt Romney. This thesis holds that the party alienates its base and creates millions of missing Republican voters by putting forward certain losers without the passion of true conservatives. To that indictment, Erickson adds that this is largely the fault of consultants who profit handsomely from such losses.

There is something to be said for the argument that merely nominating respectable losers does nothing to advance the conservative cause or to stop the growth of the big-government monster that is devouring the U.S. economy and stealing more of our individual freedom every year. But the idea that the only choice before the GOP is between nominating fat cat losers and principled conservative winners is, like the straw men that President Obama likes to use as his favorite rhetorical device, a false choice. What Republicans need is not so much Tea Party fervor as it is political skill.

What Hastert and the K Street caucus that profited from past Republican majorities taught us is that Republicans need to be about more than just attempts to buy votes with government pork. But in 2010 and 2012, the right also taught it that putting forward candidates who can’t win the support of a majority of voters isn’t too smart either. Without the Tea Party insisting on nominating Sharron Angle for a Nevada race, Harry Reid would have been defeated in 2010. Nor should anyone on the right forget that putting forward Christine O’Donnell rather than a respectable GOP moderate ensured that the Democrats would win a seat in Delaware that they are likely to hold for a long time. The disdain for national leaders attempting to vet Senate candidates also seems absurd given what happened in Missouri when Rep. Todd Akin (an extreme social conservative rather than a Tea Partier) not only threw away a certain defeat of Democrat Claire McCaskill but also tarnished the Republican brand around the nation with his idiotic comments about rape and pregnancy.

These lessons should be remembered even when we look at what seem like reasonable criticisms of the establishment by Erickson. While re-nominating Roberts and even Cochran may be classified as unforced errors, what he’s leaving out of the discussion is the very real possibility that loose cannons such as Milton Wolf and Chris McDaniel might have sunk the party. In particular, it can be argued that keeping McDaniel, a former radio talker with a paper trail of wild comments a mile long, out of the general election might have been the smartest thing the GOP did all year since he might have been the 2014 version of Akin.

The question of what Republicans do with their majority if they win it is something we’ll find out in 2015. But you can’t govern without winning elections and that is something the Tea Party hasn’t always mastered. Too often, some of them seem more interested in fighting and destroying their slightly less conservative party opponents than in beating Democrats and then governing. Sour grapes from Tea Partiers about “hollow victories” strikes me as being just as absurd as the excuses already put forward by Democrats about why they are losing this election. If Rove, McConnell, and Co. have stopped them from blowing up another chance for a Republican majority, that is something that even the most dedicated conservatives should be celebrating tonight.

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Our Sullen and Self-Indulgent President

I noticed the same Politico article that Seth Mandel commented on, in which this line appears: “More than anything, Obama’s loathing for Washington, an attitude that reads as ennui to outsiders, has hardened into a sullen resignation at being trapped in a broken system he failed to change, advisers told us.”

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I noticed the same Politico article that Seth Mandel commented on, in which this line appears: “More than anything, Obama’s loathing for Washington, an attitude that reads as ennui to outsiders, has hardened into a sullen resignation at being trapped in a broken system he failed to change, advisers told us.”

This quote should elicit not pity but a belly laugh. Mr. Obama has not only failed to change the “broken system,” he has made things worse in every respect: gridlock, polarization, divisive and petty rhetoric, antipathy between Republicans and Democrats, hemorrhaging trust in government, you name it. Mr. Obama has done enormous and lasting damage to politics as a profession, quite apart from the harm his substantive policies have caused.

But in reading about the president’s “sullen resignation,” I’m reminded of a quote that is found in David Corn’s book Showdown. It comes from David Axelrod, who has been Mr. Obama’s most important political adviser over his career.

“Obama ran for president because he believed there was a confluence of problems that were a long time in the making, a consequence of rapid changes in communications, technology, and the economy,” Axelrod says. “And the real question was, Are we mature enough as a country to deal with that in a way that works for most Americans?”

Mr. Axelrod goes on to say, “This may not be entirely satisfying, but he believes his highest responsibility is to get things done.” Axelrod’s job was to “find a way to convey this, to politically monetize character.” He added, “It’s not entirely apparent you can do that.”

The last line is the giveaway. The narrative was that Mr. Obama was a once-in-a-century gift to us, a world-historical figure who would (in his words) “transform” the United States. But if he failed–as he surely has, and as even the president now seems to understand–then the predicate was laid. Unable to deny failure, the storyline would shift to explain failure. And the explanation goes like this: Barack Obama was simply too good for America.

That Mr. Obama and his courtiers believe this self-indulgent, vainglorious nonsense is yet more evidence of the make-believe world they have constructed and are now encamped in. As for the president’s “sullen resignation”: My guess is that Mr. Obama’s resentments and surliness will increase after the results of today’s midterm, as Mr. Obama achieves what “no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row.”

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GOP Senate Means Obama Owns Gridlock

One of the key Democratic talking points in the waning days of their midterm campaign is to predict even worse gridlock in the next two years if the Republicans win the Senate. Given the unbridgeable differences that already exist between President Obama and the House Republican leadership, it’s hard to imagine the administration’s relationship with the GOP getting any better if the Senate is in the hands of his foes too. That’s why liberals are consoling themselves about tomorrow’s likely loss by predicting that the standoff in 2015 will, like the one in 2013, help their party and hurt Republicans. But that assessment of any future confrontation rests on the assumption that the same rules that applied before will determine the outcome of the next battle. Politicians and pundits need to take into account that this may not be the case.

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One of the key Democratic talking points in the waning days of their midterm campaign is to predict even worse gridlock in the next two years if the Republicans win the Senate. Given the unbridgeable differences that already exist between President Obama and the House Republican leadership, it’s hard to imagine the administration’s relationship with the GOP getting any better if the Senate is in the hands of his foes too. That’s why liberals are consoling themselves about tomorrow’s likely loss by predicting that the standoff in 2015 will, like the one in 2013, help their party and hurt Republicans. But that assessment of any future confrontation rests on the assumption that the same rules that applied before will determine the outcome of the next battle. Politicians and pundits need to take into account that this may not be the case.

Let’s concede that some of the key elements of the bruising conflict between Obama and the Republicans in the last two years with a split Congress will still be in place even if both houses are run by the GOP next January.

Even as a wounded and very lame duck, the president will remain a formidable political opponent. Though his personal appeal seems to have reached its expiration date, he’s still a unique historical figure with the ability to command the attention and the support of many Americans. Moreover, the Democrats’ ace in the hole—a mainstream media that is firmly in the pocket of the president no matter how poor his performance or what manner of scandal is brewing—is still there to help spin anything that happens as the GOP’s fault and to buy into Obama’s specious pose as the adult in the negotiating room.

That’s why many people, including some Republicans, fear that a Republican-controlled Senate will only set up the party for a new round of defeats in the court of public opinion once the president demonstrates, as our Seth Mandel speculated earlier today, that he is incapable of rethinking or rebooting his approach to governance. The assumption is that the president’s unwillingness to compromise—which is equally as intransigent as that of the most hardcore Tea Party caucus members—will allow his media cheerleaders to interpret the standoff as proof that the GOP doesn’t want to govern. That will allow Hillary Clinton to run against a “do-nothing” Congress and lead inevitably to a Democratic wave in 2016 that will erase the Republican majorities that will already be in danger due to the large number of GOP incumbents who will be hard-pressed to repeat their 2010 upsets.

That’s a frightening prospect for Republicans even as they contemplate what may be a very good day tomorrow. But Democrats need to remember one pertinent fact before they start spinning the results.

If Republicans control both houses of Congress, that will give them more than their current ability to frustrate the designs of the president and his allies in the Senate. Majorities on both sides of the Hill will enable them to actually pass bills on key issues. If they do–and given the stark divisions in the House as well as in the Senate GOP caucus, that is not a given–that will put the ball in the president’s court as he will then be forced to sign or veto legislation.

Will a veto standoff play the same way as the current formula for gridlock? Democrats hope so, but there is a big difference between a president being able to lambast Congress for not “doing its job” and passing bills and one that is presented with the verdict of the legislature but will not sign. The power to veto is an effective weapon but it is not quite the same thing as being able to point your finger at a House of Representatives that can’t get out of its own way and even pass something its leader wanted.

Republicans face formidable challenges once they are in charge of both houses, though most of these will come from within. But what liberal pundits and even some conservatives forget is that the dynamic next year will be a lot different from the past. Obama is weak and getting weaker in terms of the political capital he has to spend every month. A Congress that puts him on the defensive by passing its own agenda will potentially be offering the nation a coherent alternative to liberal patent nostrums. On a host of issues, including energy, education, and immigration, if Obama’s only answer to Republican bills is to say no, it won’t be as easy for him to say that it’s all the fault of the other side. He’s the one will be saying “no,” not Speaker John Boehner or even the Tea Party. That’s even more more pertinent if he is also seeking to institute one-man rule via executive orders so as to prevent Congress from having its say.

All of which means that the stakes tomorrow are a lot higher than many on the left are willing to concede. A GOP Senate presents the party with an opportunity to not only make Barack Obama’s last two years in office miserable but also to lay the foundation for a strong 2016 effort. As much as it is tempting for Democrats to say they win by losing, the truth is, they have far more to lose in the midterms than they are letting on.

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What to Look for in Tomorrow’s Midterms

Among the questions I’ll be seeking to answer as the midterm elections unfold tomorrow are these:

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Among the questions I’ll be seeking to answer as the midterm elections unfold tomorrow are these:

How much progress have Republicans made since 2012 in their Get Out The Vote effort? How much erosion will we see among the core Democratic constituencies (polls show a marked drop in support for President Obama among Hispanics, young people, and women)? Will Republicans be able to do well not only in red states but purple ones? Can Republicans make gains in states that are battlegrounds for 2016 (like Iowa, Colorado, and New Hampshire)? Will Republicans show they’re well on the way toward repairing their damaged reputation with the public–or will this election been seen almost wholly as a repudiation of the president and Obamaism? Will one of the story lines after the election be that Democrats went to the “war on women” well too often and that playing the race card so promiscuously has diluted its power? Just how ugly will the recriminations be among Democrats? Will the president emerge from Tuesday’s election with the reputation as the greatest Democratic wrecking ball since Ronald Reagan?

Beyond the immediate, day-after effects, how will Mr. Obama react to a second dreadful midterm election, both psychologically and in terms of substantive policies? Will he become even more petulant and frustrated and further disassociate from reality? Will he move immediately toward executive amnesty, which will more deeply polarize America and invite a fierce confrontation with Republicans? Will a Senate takeover by Republicans (assuming there is one) lead Ted Cruz to move toward the 2015 version of the government shutdown?

One final thought: If you want to focus on a single Senate race that will indicate that a very good night may end up being a great night for Republicans, focus on New Hampshire. If Scott Brown defeats Jeanne Shaheen, it will demonstrate that the GOP wave is quite a large one–and that Democrats have entered a danger zone with the American people.

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Why Obama Won’t “Reboot”

Just in time for the dreaded sixth-year midterms, Politico Magazine has a long article trying to answer the question: “Can Obama Reboot?” The better question is the subtitle: “Does he even want to?” Indeed, considering the record of recent presidents and the overall power of the presidency–grown even more expansive, as so often happens, in this latest administration–if Obama wants to change course, he can. What has differentiated him from his immediate predecessors is that they were willing to do so, and Obama has not shown much interest in learning from his mistakes. The reason for that, it turns out, is buried deep within the Politico profile of a very self-pitying president.

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Just in time for the dreaded sixth-year midterms, Politico Magazine has a long article trying to answer the question: “Can Obama Reboot?” The better question is the subtitle: “Does he even want to?” Indeed, considering the record of recent presidents and the overall power of the presidency–grown even more expansive, as so often happens, in this latest administration–if Obama wants to change course, he can. What has differentiated him from his immediate predecessors is that they were willing to do so, and Obama has not shown much interest in learning from his mistakes. The reason for that, it turns out, is buried deep within the Politico profile of a very self-pitying president.

The story begins with the midterms and how Obama loves to campaign but Democratic candidates don’t want to be seen with him. Then there are the absurd statements of King Obama the Underdog: “More than anything, Obama’s loathing for Washington, an attitude that reads as ennui to outsiders, has hardened into a sullen resignation at being trapped in a broken system he failed to change, advisers told us.”

Well, considering he’s been running vapid campaigns, cynically attempting to damage the credibility of both Congress and the Supreme Court, overseeing a weaponized IRS, further entrenching special interests, and speaking of those who disagree with him as his “enemies,” it’s no surprise the status quo hasn’t budged. Obama has been the status quo, politics-as-usual president. He didn’t “fail to change” anything; he refused to change, and he failed.

The story continues with testimony from others in Washington that Obama seems ready to give up; that his my-way-or-the-highway routine was no bluff, and now he’d like to pack up and be on his way. It’s enough to almost make you feel sorry for the man, until you remember he’s the leader of the free world and hasn’t stopped complaining from day one. Additionally, any sympathy the reader might have for Obama isn’t requited; we soon find out that Obama doesn’t think much of the voters, who don’t seem to think much of him.

The key paragraph comes when the Politico reporters discuss the possibility that Obama will be better off once the midterms are behind him–even if they’re disastrous for Democrats–because that means the next election is a presidential-year contest. And an Obama administration aide makes a revealing argument:

“It is important to recognize in this election a tiny fraction of voters will vote in a handful of states that are terrible for the president,” the senior White House aide said. “There are like, two Americas—there is a midterm America and a presidential-election-year America. We would be making a big mistake, heading into a presidential election year where we are not on the ballot but our party is, to make a whole series of strategic decisions based on the politics of an electorate that will not exist two years from now.”

There are two major problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that it represents a base-only messaging strategy. What the Obama official calls “an electorate that will not exist” is actually the percentage of voters who care enough about politics and policy to stay engaged for their congressional and gubernatorial elections. These are the more informed voters. The electorate that Obama–and national Democrats–much prefer is this midterm electorate plus their base, which is made up of voters who turn out for the cultish leadership campaigns, popularity contests, and divisive and condescending identity grievance politics of the presidential campaigns Democrats have mastered.

The problem is that this strategy may be running out of steam, as Jonathan wrote earlier. This year, the White House’s “war on women” has flopped so spectacularly in blue states that Democratic Colorado Senator Mark Udall is now getting heckled by a Democratic donor over his obsession with reproductive politics. Why won’t he talk about anything else? they wonder. Because Democrats have been programmed not to. That may change, even as Obama clearly believes the Democrats will be gearing up to repeat this strategy in 2016.

The other problem with the Obama administration’s iteration of “like, two Americas”–the bro version of the classic trope–is that it reveals the extent to which Obama and those around him misunderstand the basic structure of American democracy. Maybe this is deliberate–delegitimize that which you disapprove of–but it’s still a mistake.

Obama would like to believe that the midterm elections are not really a reproach of his governing or a wholesale rejection of his policies because if you ask everyone who votes in presidential years, he gets higher marks. But in fact the midterms are just such a reproach because the Congress is the only means by which voters can check the ambitions and agenda of a president, since they can’t vote for Supreme Court justices. This is especially true of the sixth-year midterms, when there will not be another chance to vote out the president.

Obama seems to think that any vote that is not a direct referendum on his policies is a poor guide to crafting an overarching party agenda. That’s wrong, and it helps explain why Obama can, but probably won’t, “reboot.”

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Race-Baiting and the Democrats’ Future

With the midterm campaign coming down to its last days, its been clear for weeks that the only way Democrats believe they can save some of their endangered red-state Senate incumbents is to play the race card. Both Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan have sought to identify Republicans with racism and even, in Hagan’s case, with the killing of Trayvon Martin or the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, in order to mobilize African-American voters. While these tactics are based on outrageous slanders, the decision to play the race card is logical if not scrupulous. The coalition that elected Barack Obama to the presidency twice relies on huge numbers of minorities as well as young people and unmarried women turning out to vote. The outcome on Tuesday will be largely dependent on whether that turnout resembles the ones of 2008 and 2012 or that of 2010 when Republicans won a midterm landslide. But whether or not the Democrats’ race-baiting tactics succeed, the real question facing the party is whether they are right to do so. And by that I don’t refer to whether the decision to sink this low is ethical but whether it is smart.

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With the midterm campaign coming down to its last days, its been clear for weeks that the only way Democrats believe they can save some of their endangered red-state Senate incumbents is to play the race card. Both Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan have sought to identify Republicans with racism and even, in Hagan’s case, with the killing of Trayvon Martin or the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, in order to mobilize African-American voters. While these tactics are based on outrageous slanders, the decision to play the race card is logical if not scrupulous. The coalition that elected Barack Obama to the presidency twice relies on huge numbers of minorities as well as young people and unmarried women turning out to vote. The outcome on Tuesday will be largely dependent on whether that turnout resembles the ones of 2008 and 2012 or that of 2010 when Republicans won a midterm landslide. But whether or not the Democrats’ race-baiting tactics succeed, the real question facing the party is whether they are right to do so. And by that I don’t refer to whether the decision to sink this low is ethical but whether it is smart.

The answer from Democratic operatives eager to preserve the party’s Senate majority as well as to lay the foundation for another smashing presidential win in 2016 would probably be something along the lines of declaring that all’s fair in love, war, and politics. If getting African-Americans to the polls requires cynically recycling racial incitement, then so be it. Moreover they see it as no more nor less ethical than Republican hacks employing concerns over issues like gay marriage or immigration in order to get their base to turn out.

But just as Republicans have learned the lesson in recent election cycles that excessive pandering to social conservatives has unforeseen consequences in the form of damaging blowback with moderates and independents, so, too, Democrats need to be wary of becoming the party of race incitement.

Waving the bloody shirt of Ferguson seems like a good idea to those who believe, not wrongly, that many African-Americans view such incidents as evidence of the enduring legacy of the nation’s history of racism. But the line between sending subtle hints about such issues and outright race baiting has clearly been crossed when, as Hagan did, Republicans are falsely accused of playing a role in killing young African-Americans. Nor did Landrieu do herself any favors by publicly complaining about the treatment of blacks and women in the contemporary south.

Both parties desperately need their bases to be enthusiastic about elections if they are to win. But both also need to remember that winning electoral majorities requires more than mobilization of true believers. Republicans have become obsessed with appeasing their core voters and paid for it at times by being slammed, often unfairly, as overly identified with extremists. But it seems never to occur to Democrats that over-the-top appeals to their base will exact a cost with the rest of the electorate.

In the past two years, we’ve heard a great deal of Democratic triumphalism about how changing demographics will ensure them an unshakable electoral majority for years, if not decades, to come. But as much as they certainly benefit heavily from the overwhelming margins they rack up among blacks and Hispanics, the notion that this alone will create a permanent Democratic hegemony in Washington is spurious. In the end, all parties must win over the vital center of the American public square. As Ronald Reagan proved, they need not sacrifice their ideology or their principles to do so. But when they go too far, they inevitably run aground.

That’s the real danger of a reliance on race baiting for the Democrats. It’s not just that African-Americans will grow tired of such obvious exploitation but that by linking themselves so firmly with such dubious tactics and extreme rhetoric, they drown out any reasoned arguments they might put forward for their party.

In 2008 and 2012, Democrats were able to rouse their base with positive messages of empowerment that revolved around the historic and deeply symbolic candidacies of Barack Obama while at the same time offering an effective if ultimately spurious promise of hope and change to the entire country. But in 2014, as Obama’s popularity has waned and then collapsed, they are forced to do verbal gymnastics as candidates seek to distance themselves from the president and his policies while simultaneously seeking to appeal to minorities that still revere him with negative race-based slurs about Republicans.

Thus, even if these tactics work to turn out blacks—and it is by no means clear that it will come anywhere close to the 2012 levels that Democrats desperately need—the party may be doing itself real damage with the public in ways that will harm their presidential candidate in 2016. As with other misleading memes they have beat to death, such as the spurious war on women that Republicans are supposed to be waging, Democrats are finding that they are fast exhausting the electorate’s patience and are running out of ideas. As much as playing the race card seems like a foolproof if unsavory tactic, it may not be as smart a move as they think it is.

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Obama’s Extraordinary Damage to His Party

How much damage is Barack Obama doing to the Democratic Party? According to the respected political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, the answer is quite a lot. According to Rothenberg, “President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row.”

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How much damage is Barack Obama doing to the Democratic Party? According to the respected political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, the answer is quite a lot. According to Rothenberg, “President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row.”

Mr. Rothenberg compares Obama to the worst midterm numbers of two-term presidents going back to Harry Truman. He concludes that it’s likely that over the course of two midterm elections, Democrats will lose somewhere in the range of 68-75 House seats range and 11-15 Senate seats.

Those final totals won’t be known for some time to come, given that Louisiana and Georgia may have run-off races that extend into next January. But certainly by Wednesday morning, we’ll have a pretty good sense of just how bad of a night Democrats will have suffered. Most of the polling of late suggests things are breaking for Republicans, though this development should keep the champagne on ice for now. In any event, it’s not too early to consider the fact that Barack Obama may be on the verge of doing unprecedented damage to the party he represents.

The man who thought he was the symbol of the possibility of America returning to its best traditions may become the symbol of the most politically destructive (to his own party) chief executive in modern American history. In light of the awful Obama years, voters are in the process of giving a fresh look to the GOP. The question is whether it will be win the trust of voters who have turned against the president.

Stay tuned.

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Free Advice for Liberals: Stop Complaining About Skewed Polls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Coming Recriminations

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

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

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

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

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

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What Should Midterm Elections Be About?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Democrat Midterm Woes May Impact 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Gift to Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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Congress Can Stop Obama’s Iran Appeasement End Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this time that strategy won’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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America’s Anxious Mood and What it Means for Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ebola, Politics, and Life’s Unfairness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP’s Hawkish Turn Rewarded in the Polls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2014’s Most Cringe-Inducing Moment

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

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

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

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

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

What makes supposedly smart people do such stupid things?

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

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Democrats Turn On Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

* * * *

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

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