Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2014 midterm elections

Sorry Harry, ObamaCare Debate Isn’t Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Democrats Concede They Can’t Run on Their Record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Myth of Political Wave Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ObamaCare Remains a Bust with the Public

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

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

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

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

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

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

So wrote the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

He could have had the Affordable Care Act in mind.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watching the Obama Presidency Die

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

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

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

That’s not all.

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

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

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

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

That’s not all.

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

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

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

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

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

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Treacherous Political Terrain for Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Obama presidency continues to come apart. 

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Sinking Poll Results Debunk Dem Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Democrats and the Forever (Culture) War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fierce Urgency of After the Midterms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Running on OCare: the Landrieu Test Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dems May Regret Steyer’s Keystone Payoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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King Shows Dems’ Senate Hopes Fading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paycheck Pander All About Trial Lawyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama TD Dance a Poor Strategy for Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP Playing to Win in 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dems Shouldn’t Bother Arguing with Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beware the False Dawn

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

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

Presidential elections matter more.

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

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

Presidential elections matter more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Could Republicans Govern in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Even in KY, Focus Is Obama, Not McConnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finessing ObamaCare Won’t Save Dems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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