Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Obama

How the Midterms Vindicated Both the Establishment and the Grassroots

On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

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On Saturday night I opened the New York Times website and saw the headline I’d been waiting since last Tuesday to see. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat,” the Times declared, and I wondered why it took four days since the Republican landslide victory in the congressional midterms and coinciding gubernatorial races for the Times to find some way to spin the massive GOP victory as a Republican civil war.

Surely the Times had such a story ready to go; it always has such a story ready to go. Perhaps the paper’s editors wanted to wait for the Sunday edition to really make a splash by republishing essentially the same story they write about four thousand times a year. In any event, there it was, the crystallization of the unthinking man’s midterms narrative: Republicans lose when they lose, and they lose when they win.

Such reporting has become more interesting since the Times embraced data journalism first with Nate Silver and now with its post-Silver Upshot blog. Since the Times’s reporting is usually heavy on wishful thinking and light on facts, the paper would be at risk of its data journalists undoing the narratives the Times’s political reporters and editors work so hard to establish. Such is the case with the Upshot’s latest, “G.O.P. Is Making Progress Toward Presidency but Is Still Playing Catch-Up.”

Not only does the piece debunk the notion that there is some fixed demographic state that will hold true from now on and lock Republicans out of the popular vote, but it also makes clear that there will only be a civil war on the right if Republicans foolishly invent one. In fact, the most notable takeaway from the Upshot piece is that in the battle over whether the colossal rout the Republicans achieved last week proved the “establishment” or the “Tea Party” (a term that has probably just about outlived its usefulness) right, the answer is: both.

First, the debunking of the Democrats’ exceedingly silly argument that they lost so badly simply because of non-presidential year turnout:

The Democratic losses were not simply because of low turnout. Republicans often made significant gains among rural, white voters. Some candidates made inroads among young and Hispanic voters, as well, according to exit polls and county and precinct-level results.

Precisely. Some of the Democrats’ woes had to do with lower-than-2012 turnout and some had to do with the fact that conservatives were expanding their coalition while liberals weren’t. I imagine conservatives wouldn’t mind if Democrats persist in their emphatic denial of reality, though even President Obama–who made a point of trying to delegitimize midterm voters in a typical bout of petulant foot stomping–seems to be coming around to the absurdity of the White House’s initial spin. (Though he is still not quite approaching reality.)

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn continues:

On Tuesday, Joni Ernst, now a Republican senator-elect, won a decisive nine-point victory. She swept much of traditionally Democratic eastern Iowa, where Democrats have long fared well with rural voters.

In Colorado, Cory Gardner, now a senator-elect, also made significant gains among rural white voters. He also outperformed past Republicans in traditionally Democratic, heavily Hispanic counties.

These gains suggest that demographic trends have not doomed Republicans to minority-party status, as some political analysts predicted. Those predictions hinged in part on the assumption that Democrats could fare no worse among white voters than Mr. Obama. That assumption ignored Mr. Obama’s strengths among white voters outside the South.

It’s important to note that the trends haven’t been completely reversed, either. Republicans aren’t doomed but neither are Democrats; indeed, Democrats still have a strong presidential-year coalition. The risk they run is in ignoring the plain fact that Republicans appear to be better capable of making inroads into that Democratic coalition than political prognosticators thought. And since the Democratic electoral coalition is sustained through identity politics and not ideas, if Republicans can negate those identity-politics appeals the Democrats would be in trouble.

But the other lesson here is that the establishment and the grassroots made a superb team in this year’s midterms. The ability of Ernst in Iowa and Gardner in Colorado, among others, to win competitive races in states Obama carried twice showed that the candidate mattered, as the establishment has been emphasizing, and that conservative ideas were winners even in blue states, as the grassroots have been insisting.

Ernst, in fact, was conservative enough to cause Super-Civil Centrist Norm Ornstein to have a breakdown on social media, calling Ernst a “lunatic.” But an important element in allowing those conservative ideas to be heard was the nominations of better candidates, the GOP’s efforts in media training those candidates, and in some cases ensuring the nominations of establishment-friendly candidates who would win quietly. As Chuck Todd accidentally admitted after the election, had one conservative candidate uttered a controversial remark, the press would have forced that remark into every single race throughout the country.

This is not to say the GOP was mistake-free. Indeed, the establishment clearly erred in not intervening to encourage Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas to retire–Roberts being an extremely dangerous play since his race turned out to be competitive. But it wasn’t about either the establishment or the grassroots being perfect, it was about not making the kinds of mistakes that change the narrative and toughen the terrain for other candidates around the country. That was a test they passed, and in doing so proved the attractiveness of conservatism even in places it was assumed to be unwelcome.

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The Hard Truths Obama Needs to Hear

“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

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“The four-star commander of war operations in Iraq and Syria said politics is the key to defeating the Islamic militants there — and more U.S. troops will not necessarily help resolve the complex sectarian conflict roiling the two nations.”

Except for the reference to Syria, this sounds like something that General George Casey would have said between 2004 and 2006 when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. In fact it is a comment made just last week by General Lloyd Austin, the commander of Central Command.

There is no doubt that Austin is right today, as Casey was once right, that Iraqi politics holds the solution to dealing with Iraqi problems. But what Casey didn’t grasp, as he steadfastly refused to ask for more troops, was that U.S. forces, if intelligently employed, could alter Iraqi politics in beneficial ways, whereas failure to send more forces would lead to greater chaos and increased polarization, making political progress impossible. In fact, the surge of 2007-2008, which Casey opposed, created a breakthrough that allowed Iraqi politics to begin functioning again.

That lesson applies today. As long as Iraq continues to be split between the forces of ISIS and the Quds Force, political progress will be impossible. But if the U.S. can foster greater progress in rolling back ISIS, the resulting sense of security could undermine the support that Iranian-backed militias have gained among Iraqi Shiites.

Such progress will not come about if the U.S. is standing on the lines, however. It will only happen if the U.S. does more to aid the creation of indigenous security forces–especially among the Sunni tribes–that can fight back effectively against ISIS. And that, in turn, is unlikely to happen when the Obama administration is willing to put no more than 3,000 troops on the ground and to prevent them from accompanying indigenous forces into combat where the American presence, however small, could be crucial to success. If the U.S. ramps up its involvement deploying, say, 15,000 advisers and Special Operations personnel and relaxes their rules of engagement, it will not only have a greater chance of achieving battlefield success against ISIS but also of boosting American influence to affect the Iraqi political process.

It is quite possible that the president will refuse to do more no matter what because he is politically and ideologically opposed to greater American involvement in Iraq or the Middle East more broadly. But as a first step it is important that the U.S. commander for the region–that would be Gen. Austin–speak bluntly and forthrightly to the president, telling him that the U.S. will never achieve his objective to “degrade and eventually defeat” ISIS unless it makes more of a commitment. Comments to the effect that it’s all on the Iraqis to make political progress–and that there is little we can do until then–don’t help.

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Obama Can’t Ignore Iran’s Hostility

The Obama administration had been telling us that it might be just weeks away from signing a deal with Iran regarding the regime’s illegal nuclear program. Yet we also have reports that Iran may have already breached the interim deal it signed by employing a faster means of uranium enrichment. Then came last week’s revelation from the Wall Street Journal of Obama’s clandestine letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei regarding the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It is hard to believe that at a time when Iran’s brazen untrustworthiness is being put beyond doubt, the Obama administration is seeking to both reach an accommodation with Tehran on its nuclear program and to even pursue some kind of further military coordination. And all of this ignores the fact that the regime remains one of the most expressedly anti-American in the world.

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The Obama administration had been telling us that it might be just weeks away from signing a deal with Iran regarding the regime’s illegal nuclear program. Yet we also have reports that Iran may have already breached the interim deal it signed by employing a faster means of uranium enrichment. Then came last week’s revelation from the Wall Street Journal of Obama’s clandestine letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei regarding the campaign against ISIS in Iraq. It is hard to believe that at a time when Iran’s brazen untrustworthiness is being put beyond doubt, the Obama administration is seeking to both reach an accommodation with Tehran on its nuclear program and to even pursue some kind of further military coordination. And all of this ignores the fact that the regime remains one of the most expressedly anti-American in the world.

Jonathan Tobin has already pointed out the disingenuousness of Obama’s rhetoric on Iran as compared to the actual policy of detente that the White House has been pursuing. Equally, Michael Rubin has noted the folly of Obama’s overtures to the mullahs when Khamenei’s own rhetoric is so absurdly hostile to the United States. But, of course, Iran’s implicit hostility to America goes far beyond the statements of the supreme leader; the regime continues to engineer an entire culture of anti-American hate into which the Iranian public is indoctrinated. Michael Rubin drew readers’ attention to some of the fiercely anti-American statements made by Khamenei during the 2009 celebrations marking the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. But if we look to the same commemorations held just days ago, we see that the regime’s anti-American incitement has in fact only intensified.

Tuesday’s rally in Tehran marking the 35th anniversary of the storming of the embassy was reportedly far larger than in previous years, with some 3,000 in attendance burning the American, British, and Israeli flags, howling death to America at the top of their voices, as is customary. This year the anniversary had actually coincided with the Shia holy-day of Ashura, and so this presented the opportunity for similar such gatherings–also replete with anti-American placards and flag burning—to be held throughout several other Iranian cities.

It would of course be ridiculous to label these displays as the spontaneous outpourings that the regime would have us believe they are. In a society as tightly controlled as the one in Iran, no such public gatherings take place without the endorsement of the state. It is however true that the state-controlled media in the Islamic Republic provides the population with a stale diet of around-the-clock anti-American propaganda. Indeed, it was only back in February that Iranian television was broadcasting a simulation of attacks on U.S. military targets.

Still, given the incredibly delicate situation with the current negotiations, one might have assumed that the Iranians would have at least attempted to keep these demonstrations more low key. Yet, it is a sign of just how little respect the mullahs have for Obama—and how little they fear the United States—that far from playing down the 1979 embassy storming, in many ways they have been flaunting it. Earlier this year when it came time for Iran to select a new ambassador to the United Nations, Rouhani’s government chose none other than Hamid Aboutalebi, himself one of the former embassy hostage takers. This was a clear finger in the American eye and a sign of Iran’s completely unrepentant attitude over such past offenses.

The truth is that along with North Korea and Cuba, Iran remains one of the most profoundly anti-American countries in the world today. And yet the Obama administration appears poised to sign a treaty with the Islamic Republic. That is what an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program would be, although of course the White House will attempt to deny that the agreement is a treaty in an effort to avoid having to run it past Congress. No doubt Obama and Kerry are well aware that there are many there who will not share the administration’s enthusiasm for signing a treaty with a regime that is in every sense a fierce enemy of the United States. And yet having discarded all the other options, Obama seems to determined to push on and do just that.

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Obama’s Wrong: Iran’s Already Cheating

When he met with the press last Wednesday, President Obama gave a vote of confidence to his Iranian negotiating partners as having upheld their end of the interim nuclear deal they signed with the U.S. last year. But as much as the revelations about the president’s secret correspondence with Iran’s supreme leader that were published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday undermined the credibility of his promises about his willingness to get tough with the Islamist regime, it turns out that his assurances about Iranian compliance were also untrue. As Reuters reports, there is now good reason to believe that the Iranians have already violated the deal.

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When he met with the press last Wednesday, President Obama gave a vote of confidence to his Iranian negotiating partners as having upheld their end of the interim nuclear deal they signed with the U.S. last year. But as much as the revelations about the president’s secret correspondence with Iran’s supreme leader that were published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday undermined the credibility of his promises about his willingness to get tough with the Islamist regime, it turns out that his assurances about Iranian compliance were also untrue. As Reuters reports, there is now good reason to believe that the Iranians have already violated the deal.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, while U.S. diplomats have spent 2014 offering even more concessions to Iran, the ones Tehran pocketed last year are already worthless:

Western officials were not immediately available to comment on the allegation by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which closely tracks Iran’s nuclear program. There was no immediate comment from Tehran. ISIS, whose founder David Albright often briefs U.S. lawmakers and others on nuclear proliferation issues, cited a finding in a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran. The confidential document, issued to IAEA member states on Friday, said that since the U.N. agency’s previous report in September, Iran had “intermittently” been feeding natural uranium gas into a single so-called IR-5 centrifuge at a research facility.

The IR-5 is one of several new models that Iran has been seeking to develop to replace the erratic, 1970s vintage IR-1 centrifuge that it now uses to produce refined uranium. Unlike other advanced models under development — IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6 — at a research site at its Natanz enrichment plant, Iran had until now not fed the IR-5 with uranium gas.

“Iran may have violated (the interim accord) by starting to feed (natural uranium gas) into one of its advanced centrifuges, namely the IR-5 centrifuge,” ISIS said in an analysis.

This is significant for two reasons.

The first is that this piece of information uncovered by the IAEA shows that Iran is actively working to circumvent the already loose restrictions on uranium enrichment that were part of the interim deal. Even had Iran kept their word, it wouldn’t have taken much for the Iranians to reverse the measures that rendered their stockpile of nuclear fuel harmless. But if even the IAEA, whose efforts to monitor the Iranian nuclear program have been stymied by Iranian obstructionism, has been able to discover this deception, it’s clear the regime has been working all out to get around even the loose restrictions imposed by the interim deal.

It is true that, as Reuters also reports, advocates of appeasement of Iran are arguing that none of this constitutes a technical violation of the agreement. But their arguments sound like hair splitting. Whether or not Iran has introduced a new kind of centrifuge, it’s obvious that the effort noted by the IAEA is seeking a way around the rules and may well have already found it. The interim deal gave tacit recognition to an Iranian “right” to enrichment that had already been denied by an international consensus that realized Tehran’s goal was to build a nuclear weapon, not provide for their “peaceful energy needs.”

Just as important is that the Iranian effort to get around the interim deal explodes not only the president’s assurances but also calls into question the entire negotiating process. If the Islamist regime can violate the weak interim deal, which only sought ineffectively to freeze the dangerous nuclear program in place, how can anyone possibly expect a new and more far-reaching agreement to be credible, let alone adequately enforced?

We already know that the administration’s zeal for a deal caused it to discard the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran before the interim deal began the process of unraveling the international sanctions. Despite the president’s tough rhetoric, the Iranians believe his desire to create a new détente with their despotic, terror-sponsoring government—what Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes called the ObamaCare of the president’s second term—has put them in a strong negotiating position. That’s why they’ve spent this year demanding more concessions from the West without fear that the U.S. will call them to account on their violations or their stalling. They are confident that Obama’s lust for an agreement and pressure from Europe to end the concessions will obtain for them an even weaker nuclear deal or the time and leeway to achieve their nuclear ambition without even bothering to sign a deal.

The reaction from the administration and its apologists should confirm them in this belief. But the news about the violation should give Congress even more reason to pass tougher sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran. Iran’s cheating strengthens an already strong case for more sanctions, not more concessions from Obama.

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Obama’s Insufficient Small Steps On ISIS

President Obama is slowly moving in the right direction in Iraq. Sort of. On Friday afternoon–love that timing: normally used to bury announcements that the administration would like to see ignored–came word that he would authorize the dispatch of another 1,500 troops to Iraq in addition to the 1,400 already there. These troops will apparently be allowed to go beyond Baghdad and Erbil but still will not be allowed to go into combat.

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President Obama is slowly moving in the right direction in Iraq. Sort of. On Friday afternoon–love that timing: normally used to bury announcements that the administration would like to see ignored–came word that he would authorize the dispatch of another 1,500 troops to Iraq in addition to the 1,400 already there. These troops will apparently be allowed to go beyond Baghdad and Erbil but still will not be allowed to go into combat.

That’s a step in the right direction but only a small step. Most credible estimates suggest that he will need to dispatch at least 15,000 personnel and that they need to be given the freedom to accompany indigenous units into battle so as to improve their combat capability and more accurately call in air strikes. Moreover US troops need to be sent to make direct contact with Sunni tribes in Anbar Province instead of working exclusively through Iraqi Security Forces that are compromised by Iranian infiltration. Obama also needs to order an increase in the bombing campaign which so far has been desultory and far short of the kind of sustained air campaigns the U.S. waged in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2001).

And that is to say nothing of Syria where current plans call for training all of 1,500 Free Syrian Army soldiers next year–a ludicrously small number given that ISIS alone is estimated to have some 30,000 fighters and the Nusra Front and the Assad regime have substantial forces of their own. But then it’s increasingly obvious that Obama has no intention of going after Assad–as he reassured Ayatollah Khameini in a letter proposing an Iran-US alliance against ISIS. That kind of talk, aside from raising hackles in Tehran, scares the willies out of Sunnis and makes it much more difficult to sign them up for an anti-ISIS alliance.

As usual Obama is a puzzling study in half-measures and equivocation. Remember when he ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan but sent fewer troops than needed and saddled them with an 18-month deadline that severely hampered their effectiveness? If he were going to take ownership of the Afghanistan War, Obama would have been well advised to do it right–to send enough forces to make victory likely. But that’s not what he did, apparently for fear of offending his electoral base–as if his hard-core voters would have bolted if he had sent 150,000 rather than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan. The same impulse, alas, is visible today in Syria and Iraq where Obama continues to do just enough to say he is doing something–but not enough to win.

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Lessons on Iran from the Fall of the Berlin Wall

This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War. Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet premier for the first decade of my life. His 1982 funeral was represented the dour pageantry of the Soviet Union to which we had become accustomed. I was in the sixth grade when a Soviet pilot shot down Korean Air 007. In hindsight we learned that it was perhaps the closest the United States and Soviet Union had come to nuclear war in my lifetime. And, as a voracious reader, I grew up reading Cold War thrillers such as Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, On the Beach, and later The Charm School, and I also remember the debates in school about whether or not it was appropriate for kids my age to see The Day After when it first appeared on television. Walking around Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up, many buildings still housed these signs which somewhere along the years thankfully disappeared.

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This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War. Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet premier for the first decade of my life. His 1982 funeral was represented the dour pageantry of the Soviet Union to which we had become accustomed. I was in the sixth grade when a Soviet pilot shot down Korean Air 007. In hindsight we learned that it was perhaps the closest the United States and Soviet Union had come to nuclear war in my lifetime. And, as a voracious reader, I grew up reading Cold War thrillers such as Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, On the Beach, and later The Charm School, and I also remember the debates in school about whether or not it was appropriate for kids my age to see The Day After when it first appeared on television. Walking around Northeast Philadelphia where I grew up, many buildings still housed these signs which somewhere along the years thankfully disappeared.

When I had my bar mitzvah back in 1984, like many of my peers, I was “twinned” with a Soviet Jew my age and encouraged to write to him. I quickly received a note back asking me not to write anymore because his family feared for their safety. Teachers and peers, meanwhile, would regularly go and protest Ronald Reagan’s “warmongering” and military build-up in Western Europe. Against the backdrop of all this, there were many who downplayed the importance of freedom even as it was denied to so many. The Soviet Union would be a permanent fixture of our world and that we just had to bargain with what was there rather than what we’d like to see. Cuba might be a dictatorship, but couldn’t we just applaud its health-care system? Maybe the United States was at fault in Nicaragua and the people truly wanted to be in the Communist orbit.

Then Berlin happened. It was my senior year in high school, and what a heady time it was, coming just months after the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Despite what diplomats, teachers, professors, and news anchors told us, perhaps people really did want to be free. It’s hard to argue with hundreds of thousands clamoring to escape the prison in which their leaders had put them. Whereas many so-called sophisticated Americans had mocked Ronald Reagan for his “evil empire” remarks, those escaping from Soviet tutelage described his moral clarity as a shot of adrenalin to those seeking freedom and individual liberty.

How unfortunate it is, then, that history must repeat, that somehow those in power and those entrusted with American diplomacy have come to once again embrace moral equivalency and shirk moral clarity. We need look no further than Iran. Whereas many U.S. presidents have reached their hand out to the Iranian people, President Obama was the first to substitute a direct outreach to Iranians with instead the legitimization of the Islamic Republic, the regime which so oppresses them.

Part of this might be ignorance of his advisors. When one looks at the histories and explanations of the Islamic Revolution published in English, so many of these were commissioned against the backdrop of revolution by publishers who wanted an answer to how so many in the West were taken by surprise by the Islamic Revolution. The most popular of the resulting books—and those still used in universities—for example, Nikki Keddie’s Roots of Revolution and Ervand Abrahamian’s Iran Between Two Revolutions, treated the Islamic Revolution as the natural apex of Iranian political evolution. It might not have looked it at the time, but such a conclusion was nonsense. The Islamic Revolution was just as much an anomaly, one made possible by a confluence of events ranging from the shah’s cancer, Carter’s bungling, Khomeini’s exile from Iraq, and pure dumb luck on Khomeini’s part. It does a tremendous disservice to the Iranian people to treat the theocracy and regime imposed upon them by Ayatollah Khomeini as a permanent part of the Iranian political landscape.

The outreach Obama initiated led the president to downplay rather than offer moral support to the 2009 uprising inside Iran. Then, in order to grease his outreach, he offered Iran more than $7 billion in sanctions relief at a time when, thanks in part to sanctions, Iran’s economy was fast contracting. And that was even before the price of oil dropped precipitously, well below the level necessary to support the budget which Iranian leaders calculated.

Ronald Reagan ended the Soviet Union by forcing it to bankrupt itself. Obama was offered the same opportunity with a state just as hostile to the United States and chose to throw it a life raft. As we near a quarter century from the Berlin Wall’s fall, we should not kid ourselves by believing that it is somehow sophisticated diplomacy to preserve our adversaries or downplay the aspirations for freedom which peoples chafing under dictatorship hold. It is a lesson Obama and Kerry should consider as they work to cement their legacy on the backs of ordinary Iranians.

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After the GOP Wave

Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

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Some post-election thoughts in light of the GOPs tidal wave on Tuesday:

1. The majority of Republicans have reacted to their victories in an impressive fashion. Their rhetoric is restrained, serious, and mature. They know that while they did extremely well in races at every level, they still have a ways to go to earn the trust and loyalty of most Americans (that’s more true of congressional Republicans than those who are governors). Republicans in the Senate and House are signaling a willingness to work with the president if he’s willing to show some flexibility. (The president’s apparent commitment to go forward with an unconstitutional executive amnesty order will be all the evidence we need that Mr. Obama is determined to further polarize our politics and rip apart our political culture.) Speaker Boehner and the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, have already put forward their to-do list; so have others. There’s evidence that Republicans–most of them, anyway–have internalized the need to show they’re more serious about putting forward a governing agenda and solving problems facing middle class Americans than “telegenic confrontations” and “volcanic effusions.”  The GOP’s detoxification effort is well under way.

2. What ought to encourage Republicans isn’t simply that their ranks have swollen, but the quality of many of the new arrivals, from Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse in the Senate to Elise Stefanik and Barbara Comstock in the House to many others. The GOP does best when it’s seen as the home of individuals with conservative principles and a governing temperament. A winsome personality doesn’t hurt, either.

3. The GOP’s victory was the result of many things, from President Obama’s unpopularity and the awful political environment Democrats faced to the superior quality of the Republican candidates, their disciplined, gaffe-free campaigns, successful fundraising, and the select intervention by various groups into Republican primaries (ensuring that the most electable conservative was nominated). But not to be overlooked is that Republicans did a much better job than in the past with their Get Out The Vote effort, including turnout of low-propensity voters. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it:

A review of the RNC’s targeting operation (including a preelection sample of specific projections) suggests to me that the GOP has made significant advances on targeting and mobilizing voters. While the Democratic Party may still own the best ground game, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has narrowed, if not closed, the tech gap.

A few Democrats saw this coming. “Our side has underestimated the GOP ground game,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told me Tuesday morning. “Their electorate doesn’t look like ours, so we don’t recognize or respect what they’re doing.”

4. The most surprising outcome of the evening may have been how well Republicans did in governor’s races around the nation. They were predicted to lose several seats; instead, they made a net gain of three. Among the most impressive was Ohio’s John Kasich, who won by more than 30 points. He carried heavily Democratic counties like Lucas and Cuyahoga. In fact, in a key purple state, Kasich carried 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties and a quarter of the African-American vote. Mr. Kasich has amassed an impressive record as governor–and a popular one, too. He’s one of America’s most engaging and interesting politicians. If he wants to run for president in 2016, he certainly helped his cause on Tuesday.

5. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to be buoyed. They have very impressive people, including people in their ’30s and ’40s, at every level. Of the two parties, the GOP seems to be the one of greater energy and ideas. The Democratic Party, and liberalism more broadly, seems stale, aging, and exhausted. And of course the GOP has now strung together massive, back-to-back midterm wins. But it’s still worth keeping in mind that Republicans had spectacular showings in 1994 and 2010–and they were defeated by rather large margins in the presidential races two years after those wins. The danger is that a victory like the one Republicans experienced on Tuesday creates a false dawn, a sense of false confidence. Winning midterms elections is important; but midterm elections are different than presidential elections. The GOP still has repair work to do and things to build on. But progress is being made–and the results of this week’s election are the best evidence of that fact.

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Harry Reid Throws Himself a Pity Party

In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

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In September 2012 a story from Bob Woodward’s latest book took almost total control of the news cycle by describing an argument President Obama had with Harry Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, with Reid in the room. It was about the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. Congressional leaders had come to a tentative agreement on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff, but the deal had a major flaw from Obama’s perspective. Reid and Krone arrived to the meeting, and Krone explained the deal, which included a concession from House Republicans that Obama hadn’t expected them to offer, and the president doubted the GOP could be trusted.

Woodward describes Krone’s reaction:

“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”

Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.

On the ride back to the Capitol, Reid made it clear Krone did exactly what Reid wanted him to: “You stood up to him,” Reid said. “He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him.”

So goes Reid’s relationship with Obama. They absolutely can’t stand each other. And all that makes what is happening in the wake of the Democrats’ 2014 midterms shellacking seem both shocking and also inevitable. Reid is publicly blaming Obama for the Democrats’ woes, and using Krone to do it. This time, however, he’s escalated the Democratic civil war. He’s authorized Krone to slap Obama around on the record, a rarity.

In Robert Costa and Philip Rucker’s excellent wrap-up story on the midterms, they recounted how two days before the elections, “Krone sat at a mahogany conference table in the majority leader’s stately suite just off the Senate floor and shared with Washington Post reporters his notes of White House meetings. Reid’s top aide wanted to show just how difficult he thought it had been to work with the White House.”

Reid’s office was pre-spinning the expected loss of the Senate by going on record with the Post to blame Obama before anyone had a chance to say otherwise. And what was he saying? That the Obama White House wasn’t getting Democrats the money they could and should have to help fend off the Republicans charging up the hill. It was not, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of money, and the disagreement seemed highly technical. But that’s not how Reid saw it. “I don’t think that the political team at the White House truly was up to speed and up to par doing what needed to get done,” Krone said.

Krone–the top staffer to the outgoing Senate majority leader–thinks the Obama White House’s indifference and incompetence is costing the party. Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum pushes back on this and on the other prominent complaints about Obama from Senate Democrats:

Apparently David Krone is such an unbelievable [a**hole] that he actively decided to vent all his bitterness and bile to a couple of reporters solely to demonstrate just how hard poor David Krone’s job had been during this election season. He even made sure to bring along his notes to make sure he didn’t forget any of his grievances. As an example of preemptive CYA, this is unequaled in recent memory.

Obama certainly was a drag on his party. But Reid’s behavior here is childish to the point of absurdity for one reason. Reid is in a far better position, post-midterms, than the Democrats representing their party in the rest of the federal government. The Republicans are going to end up, in all likelihood, with 54 seats in the Senate. And yet in 2016, they will be defending 24 seats while the Democrats will be defending 10. Further, as Roll Call explains, “only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than half a dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.”

The Democrats are by no means guaranteed to take back the Senate–far from it. But the terrain is friendly enough to them in 2016 that it’s a real possibility, especially since they’ll have higher presidential-year turnout. If the election at the top of the ticket goes well for them, the Democrats might very well earn back the majority (if they win the presidency they’ll need only 50, not 51 seats to do so) just two years after losing it.

Compare that to the House, where Republicans continue to have a favorable landscape and have expanded their majority to its largest in more than 80 years. And for the White House, the news doesn’t get any better. Obama was repudiated resoundingly by the voters, and his legacy will be one of taking a wrecking ball to his party’s electoral coalition such that the Republicans control not only the House and Senate but governorships in blue states and a majority of state legislatures. Obama, unlike Reid, has no “next election” to brush off the narrative of failure. This was his last election, and he was on the wrong end of a landslide.

So Reid isn’t exactly the world’s most sympathetic loser here, even putting aside the fact that Democrats are now discovering what Republicans have long known: Reid is a toxic person devoid of integrity. Unless Obama has truly checked out, the White House is guaranteed to respond, ensuring the country will finally answer the question: How low can Harry Reid go?

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Desperation Not a Good Negotiating Position

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to the Sultanate of Oman this weekend, where he will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton.

Kerry’s meeting comes against the backdrop of an extraordinary interview he gave to the press from Paris:

“I want to get this done,” Kerry said during a series of meetings in which the Iranian negotiations figured prominently. “And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done.” Kerry said Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program for civilian, not military, use. “They have a right to a peaceful program but not a track to a bomb,” Kerry said. “We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful.”

The Iranians have a right to a peaceful program? Well, the Islamic Republic’s politicians have made that their mantra. But then, they conducted nuclear-weapons research at least until 2003, and stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, in 2005, found Iran formally in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. This, in turn, led to the United Nations Security Council taking up the Iran file, and in turn this led to at least six UN Security Council Resolutions which found that Iran did not have a right to a peaceful program given its previous violations.

It’s all well and good for Iranian negotiators to talk about the rights bestowed by the NPT, but they fail to acknowledge their violations voided those rights. For many activists and diplomats, the talks are a fiction meant to preserve the NPT rather than the means to resolve the nuclear impasse. In this, the world sees the same nod and wink that it saw in the lead-up to the Agreed Framework with North Korea two decades ago. That Iranian negotiators hold North Korea up as a model to emulate should set off alarm bells.

Back to Kerry: He is absolutely wrong to suggest that Iran has any right to a peaceful program. The only reason why he might utter such a mantra is because he and the administration he serves have become so unilateral that they are prepared to waive not only American sanctions but several unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions.

That he believes Iran’s program is peaceful beggars belief, for it ignores that peaceful programs are not built under mountains or in secret. It ignores that if Iran’s goal is indigenous energy security, the Islamic Republic doesn’t possess enough uranium to fuel eight civilian reactors for more than 15 years. And it ignores that if Iran’s goal was merely energy security, it could have rebuilt its refinery capability and pipeline network to power itself for more than a century at a fraction of its nuclear investment. It ignores the fact that the nuclear fatwa which Obama found so convincing apparently does not exist. Nor does he pay attention to President Rouhani’s history of deception and statements which suggest extreme insincerity.

Kerry is right that there is no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. There was, indeed, no reason for Iran not to reach an agreement with the IAEA in 2005, or with the international community upon receiving its first sanction. All Iran had to do was come clean about its past and comply with its international commitments.

The fact of the matter is that the more Obama and Kerry project desperation for a deal—and Kerry’s statement with regard to November 24 reflects that desperation—the more likely it is that Iran will retrench itself, as Supreme Leader Khamenei recently did with his declaration of redlines.

Let us hope that Kerry remembers that the purpose of the Iran talks was to address issues of Iran’s dishonesty and non-compliance with its agreements, not to paper over them. Just as with North Korea, a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all. Securing a legacy for Obama or being the center of international attention for a day or two is not worth the price to U.S. national security.

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Is Another “Awakening” Needed in Iraq?

If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

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If you want to feel optimistic about the state of the fight against ISIS, you can read this dispatch from Ben Hubbard of the New York Times in Baghdad. He claims that “the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.” The “nut graf” (as newspaper types call the core of the story):

The international airstrike campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has clearly played a role in slowing the Sunni Muslim group’s advance. But analysts say other factors are having a major effect, including unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, pushback from overrun communities, damage to the group’s financial base in Syria and slight improvements by ground forces in Iraq.

There is something to this analysis, but not too much. Mainly what Hubbard is reporting on is the obvious fact that ISIS, as a Sunni jihadist group, can only take root in Sunni-majority areas. It is running out of new Sunni areas to conquer in Iraq largely because it has already taken control of most of the Sunni Triangle stretching from Fallujah to Mosul. That’s hardly great news, insofar as ISIS’s control over an area the size of the United Kingdom appears as strong as ever.

True, there are some signs of tribal revolts against ISIS, for example among the Jubouri tribe in Iraq, but ISIS is able to crush them with its typical ferocity. Meanwhile even the addition of Kurdish pesh merga fighters has not ended the ISIS offensive on Kobani, and while there are some slight improvements visible among anti-ISIS forces in Iraq, there is general acknowledgement that it will be a long time before Mosul or Fallujah can be liberated. To make matters worse, a lot of whatever success there has been in stalling ISIS’s momentum in Iraq comes from the actions of bloodthirsty, Iranian-backed militias under the direction of the Quds Force. Their growing power ensures that more Sunnis will continue to rally to ISIS for protection.

In many ways the situation feels, as the perspicacious Iraq analyst Joel Rayburn, a U.S. army colonel, has pointed out, like the dark days of 2005-2006 when there were scattered tribal revolts against al-Qaeda in Iraq, the ISIS predecessor, that AQI was able to “defeat brutally in detail.” The only way to defeat ISIS is by catalyzing a larger Awakening-style tribal uprising among the Sunnis. But that will require more direct American military intervention in Iraq and Syria than President Obama has been willing to countenance.

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Dems May Regret Obama’s Immigration Orders

President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

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President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

Though immigration reform advocates have been begging him to use the power of the presidency to bypass Congress on this issue for years, the president didn’t promise to do so until this past June when he spoke of issuing the orders by the end of the summer. But embattled red-state Democrats begged him to hold off at least until the election so as to avoid their being tainted by a decision that would have enraged voters. Seeking to help politicians who were his supporters even if they avoided the unpopular president like the plague during the campaign, Obama complied.

This was a mistake since the postponement enraged Hispanics who rightly felt they had been stiffed once again by a president who had chosen not to act on immigration in his first two years in office when Democratic majorities would have given him anything he asked for. This led to a distinct lack of Hispanic enthusiasm for congressional Democrats that helped sink candidates like Senator Mark Udall in Colorado. But far from quieting concerns from the rest of the public, the threat that the president would trash the rule of law in this manner as soon as voters were presumably no longer paying attention only helped generate more support for Democrats. In the end, the president got the worst of both worlds by stalling on amnesty.

But now that the election is over, there really is no political reason to delay further. If Democrats were holding onto the hope that the Louisiana runoff election for Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat could help them retain a majority in the Senate, the president might still be dithering on the issue. But with the Republicans already holding 52 seats after the dust settled on Tuesday (with one more to come from Alaska once those results are finalized), Landrieu’s survival is irrelevant to control of Congress. The president is unlikely to postpone the move to help Landrieu, whose uphill battle in the runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy seems like a hopeless cause. Indeed, it is so hopeless that despite the lack of any other races in which to invest at the moment, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled the plug on nearly $2 million in television ad buys for her reelection effort.

Thus, the president did not shy away yesterday from making the case for his impending actions even though both Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner warned him that he was going to “poison the well” of bipartisan cooperation even before such efforts began. In doing so, he returned to his familiar theme in which he said the reason he had to act was Congress’s failure to pass its own immigration reform bill.

This is a theory of democratic governance that defies both logic and the Constitution. The president may regret the failure of the House to pass a bipartisan reform bill that made it through the Senate. But that unwillingness to put that measure into law provides no legal or moral authority for the president to attempt to put one aspect of that bill into law unilaterally. Whether it is wise or not, Congress is under no obligation to pass legislation that it does not support even if that is the president’s wish.

There are reasonable arguments to be made on behalf of a reform of a broken immigration system as well as for doing something to bring the estimated 12 million illegals already in the country under the umbrella of the law. But what the president is planning to do isn’t reform. Nor will it fix the system. If anything, the spectacle of millions of people here in violation of the law being granted permission to stay without benefit of a vote in Congress will only encourage more illegal immigration, much as the president’s past advocacy of such measures helped create the surge of illegals at the border this past summer. The long-term result will only be to render hopes of controlling the border even more illusory.

Will the executive orders recapture Hispanic enthusiasm for the Democrats? Maybe. The assumption is that Republican opposition to amnesty will ensure that Hispanics vote for the Democrats for generations to come. But Hispanics already support the Democrats for a variety of reasons. And with two years to go until the next time the voters go to the polls in a federal election it is just as possible that many will not soon forget the cynical manner in which they were manipulated this year. But let’s assume that the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote is further strengthened by the president’s decision. What Democrats need to understand is that merely playing to their base and ignoring the rest of the voters can sometimes do as much harm to their cause as it does good.

What happened this year should have made the president and his supporters understand that the spectacle of a porous border undermines support for immigration measures. At this point, even conservatives who supported the Senate bill now realize that their House colleagues may have been right when they insisted that the border had to be secured before anything could be done to deal with the status of those already here illegally. While something needs to be done to fix the system, the border surge made a comprehensive approach politically impossible.

But for the president to now defy both public opinion and the will of Congress by acting on his own will do more than embitter his Republican antagonists. Though it will mollify one part of his coalition, rather than putting the issue to bed this end run around the law will create even more anger in the political grass roots around the country that will ensure that this issue will still be red hot in 2016. As they should have learned this year, it takes more than an energized base of minorities to win elections. Amnesty for the current crop of illegals will bring us more border surges and more damage to the rule of law. Obama may be content with that being part of his legacy, but it will be his fellow Democrats who will still be stuck trying to explain a move that can’t be defended when they go back to the voters in the future.

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Tuesday’s Tidal Wave

It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

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It’s worth stepping back and assessing the breadth and dimensions of the results of the 2014 midterm elections:

  • The Republican Party made substantial gains in the Senate, the House, among governorships, and in state legislatures. It now has a comfortable majority in each. The Republican Party “is basically the nation’s governing party,” as my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin put it.
  • In the Senate, Republicans started the week with 45 seats. They’re likely to end the year (after the December 6 Louisiana runoff) with 54–a net gain of nine seats. Note well: Not since 1980 have Republicans beaten more than two incumbent Democrats. On Tuesday, Republicans defeated four incumbent Democrats–in Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alaska–and they’re favored to win in Louisiana. Republicans also won open seats in Iowa, West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota, all previously held by Democrats.
  • The GOP will hold at least 31 governorships, including gains made in the traditionally Democratic states of Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
  • The GOP now holds 69 of the country’s 99 state houses and senates. (The previous high was 64 chambers in 1920.)
  • Republicans will have full control of at least 29 state legislatures, the party’s largest total since 1928.
  • In the races for the Senate, House, and governorships, Republicans will have picked up 32 seats (nine in the senate, 19 in the House, and four governorships); Democrats will have picked up just four seat (three in the House and the governorship of Pennsylvania).
  • As for the damage the Obama years have done to the Democratic Party, consider this: During President Obama’s first term, Democrats held 60 seats in the Senate. By the end of his term they’ll probably hold 46, a net loss of 14. When Mr. Obama took office in 2008, Democrats had control of 257 House seats; by the end of his term, the likely number will be 185–a net loss of 72 seats. And when Mr. Obama was first sworn in as president, Democrats held 28 governorships; by the end of his term, they’ll hold 18–a net loss of 10 seats.

Prior to Tuesday’s election, the political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote, “President Barack Obama is about to do what no president has done in the past 50 years: Have two horrible, terrible, awful midterm elections in a row. In fact, Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman.” The midterm results were even worse for Democrats than Mr. Rothenberg anticipated. All of which may vindicate this judgment by Michael Barone, who said it looks as if President Obama will leave his party “in worse shape than any president since Woodrow Wilson nearly a century ago.”

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President Obama says, “What, me worry?”

In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

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In the nearly six years of his presidency, Barack Obama has done to the Democratic Party about what the Royal Air Force did to Hamburg in July 1943. As George E. Condon Jr., points out in National Journal:

The numbers tell the story: In 2009, Democrats had 60 senators, when you include the two independents who caucused with them; in 2015, they will have 45. In 2009, Democrats had 256 members of the House; in 2015, they will have 192. In 2009, Democrats had 28 governors; in 2015, they will have 18. In 2009, Democrats controlled both legislative chambers in 27 states; in 2015, they will control only 11. In 2009, Democrats controlled 62 legislative chambers; in 2015, they will control only 28 (with one tie and two still undecided).

The impact of the carnage in state legislatures on Obama’s watch is hard to overstate. This is where the future classes of mayors, governors, and members of Congress are bred. This is where the boundary lines are drawn for congressional and legislative districts. This is where party leaders come from. And this is where the rules are made for party primaries and election laws are set. According to Tim Storey at the National Conference of State Legislatures, what we saw on Tuesday was an almost unprecedented “Republican wave,” which he said, leaves “Democrats at their lowest point in state legislatures in nearly a century.”

Even E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post, who can be depended upon to find the liberal silver lining in the blackest of political clouds, writes that Tuesday’s wipeout was “Bigger than 2010.”

And the Republicans have a large number of young, fresh political talents who are considered possible presidential timber in 2016, such as Rep. Paul Ryan (who’s 44), Senators Marco Rubio (43) and Rand Paul (51), governors Scott Walker (47) and Chris Christie (52), and former governor Jeb Bush (the old guy at 61). Many of these have thought deeply about what the country needs, and many of them have had extensive and successful executive experience. President Obama has shown what the lack of such experience can mean.

the Democrats, meanwhile, have a presidential bench that is thin, to put it mildly, and old. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (67), Senator Elizabeth Warren (65), and Vice President Joe Biden (71) are about it. None of those three have so much as ten minutes worth of executive experience.

President Obama, in his extraordinarily detached press conference yesterday about the debacle, seems to have been scripted by Alfred E. Neuman. As Condon wrote:

The president didn’t seem energized at all and certainly wasn’t very interested in analyzing the political cataclysm that now will color the remainder of his time in office. Instead, Obama was flat and unemotional in his mien, bloodless in his assessment of an election that claimed so many of his supporters, and passionless in his declaration of goals for the next two years. He even refused to come up with a word like “shellacking” (2010) or “thumping” (2006) to describe the slaughter. “Republicans had a good night” was as far as he would go.

By the way, has there ever been a president who gave such boring, humorless, graceless, and endless press conferences? One has the impression that if a reporter asked Obama what time it was, the answer would last ten minutes and wouldn’t contain the time of day. If you’d like a thoroughly entertaining contrast, spend ten minutes watching a master of the presidential press conference, John F. Kennedy, at work.

Obama’s self-absorption and ideological rigidity have made him not only a disaster for the country, but for his own party as well.

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White House Ignores Khamenei Response to Letters

The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

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The always excellent Jay Solomon and Carol Lee have a scoop in the Wall Street Journal regarding the latest letter which President Obama has sent to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

While we can debate the wisdom of this correspondence–and I think Obama is being extremely naïve–at least he seems to recognize that it is the supreme leader who makes decisions and not the Iranian president, no matter how smiley that president might be.

What struck me, however, was this statement in Solomon and Lee’s report:

Mr. Khamenei never directly responded to the overtures, according to U.S. officials. And Iran’s security forces cracked down hard that year on nationwide protests that challenged the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Actually, Khamenei did respond. On the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, he said this, in a mocking tone which is even more apparent in the Persian version of this speech:

The new US President made some beautiful comments. He also repeatedly asked us in writing and orally to turn a new page and help him change the present situation. He asked us to cooperate with him to solve global issues. He went as far as that.

Now, Khamenei continued to say he gave Obama a chance, but Obama didn’t come around. Khamenei then gloated about the strength of the Islamic Republic, a perception which Obama’s groveling tone has bolstered:

I wonder why they do not learn a lesson from what has happened. I do not understand why they are not prepared to get to know our nation. Do they not know that this nation is the one that resisted and brought the two superpowers – that is, the Soviet Union and America – to their knees? When there were two superpowers in the world, they were opposed to one another in almost all areas except in their enmity towards the Islamic Republic. This enmity was the only thing these two superpowers had in common. Why do you not learn your lesson? Today you are not even as powerful as you used to be. The Islamic Republic is several times more powerful today than those days, and yet you are speaking with the same tone? That is arrogance – talking to a nation arrogantly and using threats to get what they want. They threaten us. And our nation says it will resist.

Khamenei then warned the United States not to put its hope in reformers, as Obama seems keen to do:

Just because a handful of naïve or malevolent individuals have confronted the Islamic Republic does not mean that they can roll out the red carpet for Americans in our country. These individuals either had ulterior motives or had naively misunderstood the events without having very bad intentions – I do not want to be judgmental about their malevolence. Americans should know that the nation is resisting firmly.

The point of this is not to criticize the Wall Street Journal report which only relates what Obama administration officials said. But it is symptomatic of the problems of Obama administration diplomacy with Iran: Simply put, Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry imagine sincerity where none exists and ignore any response that is not too their liking. Rather than acknowledge that Khamenei responded with a message Obama did not like, the White House and State Department would rather put the response down the memory hole, all the better to keep the process alive. The reality is this, however: No really does mean no.

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Obama’s Iran Promises Ring Hollow

At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

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At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote to the Iranian leader in the context of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, a common enemy of both the U.S. and the Islamist regime. The content of the letters as reported by the Journal is not as much a concern as the fact that the administration has kept its key allies in the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates out of the loop on the correspondence much as it did last year when the U.S. conducted secret talks with Tehran in order to facilitate the interim nuclear accord signed last November. President Obama apparently is far more interested in ingratiating himself with Khamenei than with Israel.

This news casts a shadow over the president’s assurances given in his press conference yesterday about Iran. The president said that the U.S. would learn whether a deal could be obtained with Iran sometime in the “next several weeks.” But what Iran has already learned about U.S. policy in the last two years is that the best thing they have going for them in the talks is that the president’s obsession with creating a new détente with the regime always outweighs his supposed commitment to stopping them. Though he boasted of how tough he has been on them—taking credit for economic sanctions that he opposed tooth and nail prior to their adoption—the record of the past six years is quite different. The president jettisoned America’s considerable economic and military leverage over Iran last year when he agreed to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed them to keep their nuclear infrastructure.

In the follow-up talks conducted this year, which have predictably gone into overtime far past the original timeline and may well extend beyond the new November 24 deadline, he has offered even more concessions, including absurd proposals about disconnecting the pipes that link the centrifuges spinning the nuclear fuel. He continues to buy into the lie that Iran seeks nuclear power for its “peaceful energy needs”—a joke considering its oil reserves—and seems more interested in reintegrating the brutal, anti-Semitic regime back into the international economy than in halting their support of terrorism or forcing them to stop building missiles that couldn’t threaten the West as well as Israel and moderate Arabs.

The president has continued to frame opponents of his weak diplomacy as seeking war, a point he alluded to in his remarks. But the real alternative to Obama’s campaign of appeasement was the tougher sanctions proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition that he expended considerable political capital to defeat last year.

The problem isn’t whether the Iranians will sign a deal either before November 24 or after it. It is, rather, why the U.S. has abandoned the stance the president enunciated in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney when he said any agreement must result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program. Last year’s interim agreement ensured that its nuclear program would survive. If the leaks coming out of the current talks are right, there’s little doubt that the sanctions will be lifted (by Obama simply ordering them not to be enforced rather than by congressional vote as required by law) in exchange for measures that will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. But, as he did last year, the president will claim victory and count on his press cheerleaders to back up his assertions that critics are warmongers.

As troubling as the letters to Khamenei may be, it is Obama’s diplomatic initiative that is the real threat to America’s Middle East allies as well as to the long-term security interests of the West. What those worried about this threat need are not more hollow promises from the president but transparency about an appeasement strategy.

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Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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Arrogant Obama Has Learned Nothing

Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

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Last night as the country was absorbing the midterm election results, the New York Times reported that President Obama was “irritated” about the Democrats’ stunning defeat but that he did not consider the outcome to be a “repudiation” of himself or his administration. In response, some talking heads on the cable news networks suggested that given some time to reflect on events, he would take responsibility for a historic drubbing. They were wrong. When the president came out to face the public at his White House press conference this afternoon, it was clear that not only would he refuse to take blame for his party’s losses but was unchastened by the experience.

Though the press had wondered what adjective he would use to describe a defeat similar in magnitude to a 2010 midterm election that he dubbed a “shellacking,” his speech writers appeared not to have employed a thesaurus. The most he would say was that “Republicans had a good night.” But this unwillingness to acknowledge the magnitude of the outcome was merely the prelude to a lengthy display of presidential arrogance that made it clear he had no intention of taking the voters’ lack of confidence to heart or changing a thing about a presidency that the majority of Americans no longer regard favorably.

Rather than taking a page from Bill Clinton’s book and understanding that he had to adjust his policies and ideas to political reality, Obama seems to think he has no lessons to learn from the voters who broadly rejected the policies that he told us last month were on the ballot yesterday.

Asked several times by members of the press if he was prepared for genuine compromise, all he gave them was the usual boilerplate he’s been employing throughout his presidency about being willing to listen to Republicans if they come up with reasonable ideas. The only problem with that: he believes the only one with reasonable ideas is Barack Obama.

As for the American people, he dismissed their votes as merely a symptom of restlessness and impatience, not a reasoned assessment of his conduct in office. If there was any conclusion to be drawn from their votes, he took it as a slap at both Republicans and Democrats. As far as he is concerned, what the people want is for Congress to “get stuff done.”

It’s true that Republicans in Congress have favorability ratings even lower than the president’s awful poll numbers. But to claim that the voters took an equally dim view of both sides of the partisan divide is to ignore the results. Democrats took a beating around the country as an anti-Obama backlash tarnished their brand and even some highly unpopular Republicans wound up winning races easily that had been thought to be hard slogs. With his party suffering massive losses in the Senate and the House and even in governor’s races where Democrats suffered from their association with the president, it is simply impossible to honestly assert that what happened was a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave. Instead of a “Seinfeld election” about nothing, it was an anti-Obama six-year itch of historic proportions.

Speaking prior to Obama’s press conference, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the president to work with Republicans and accept the olive branch he was offering. But he also warned him that if he ignored the election results and moved ahead with plans to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, he would be immediately “poisoning the well” and making bipartisan deal-making far more difficult.

Yet that is exactly what Obama seems intent on doing. His attitude about immigration was no different than his stance on every other issue where he differs from Congress: It’s my way or the highway. If a Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t want him doing end runs around their constitutional authority, Obama says their only choice is to pass bills he likes. If not, he will act on his own.

This is the main point of his remarks. Though he spoke at times of being willing to have more drinks or rounds of golf with Republicans or members of Congress—something most presidents understand is part of their job but which Obama regards as being somehow beneath his dignity—the president believes such meetings are merely an opportunity for others to listen to him and learn the errors of their ways. In his view, “getting stuff done” means Republicans passing liberal legislation, not him being willing to agree to some of the GOP agenda.

Listening to Obama discuss the need to accommodate or even listen to critics, it’s easy to see he still thinks of himself as the adult in rooms full of petulant children that an unkind fate has forced him to supervise. Rather than treat opponents as equals who must be met halfway, even after six years of failure with Congress, Obama still seems to believe he is, at worst, a constitutional monarch who must suffer the indignity of hobnobbing with commoners even if he would rather die than relinquish his royal prerogatives.

Though the president did the right thing last night by calling election winners from both parties and scheduling a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, based on today’s performance there is no reason to think the next two years will be any different from those that preceded them when it comes to Obama working with his opponents.

It is one thing to be undaunted by electoral reversals. It is quite another to pretend that such petty annoyances are unworthy of your attention. Though he was the one who reminded us in January 2013 that “elections have consequences” when he was asked about working with defeated Republicans, this is a president who believes that he doesn’t have to heed the verdict of the voters if it goes against him and his allies. That, and not congressional squabbling, is the answer to the question voters ask about why Washington doesn’t function properly.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy After the Midterms

In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

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In that Temple of Denial known as the White House, President Obama is no doubt telling himself that the voters just don’t get it–they are punishing him, he probably thinks, because they have not yet digested the fact that economic growth has picked up speed, ObamaCare implementation has gotten smoother, and Ebola has been contained. As one aide told the New York Times, “He doesn’t feel repudiated.”

He should, especially in national security which I am convinced was as important a factor in this election as it was in the 2006 midterm when, in the midst of Iraq War debacles, the Republicans lost control of the Senate. The president did himself incalculable damage when he set a “red line” for Syria last year but failed to enforce it. That created an image of weakness and indecision which has only gotten worse with the rise of ISIS and Putin’s expansionism in Ukraine.

The question now is whether the president will overcome his initial denials and squarely face the message that the voters were trying to send: He needs to change course. I will leave it to others to spell out what such a course change will mean in domestic policy, but when it comes to national-security policy he would do well to take all or some of the following steps:

  • Save the defense budget from the mindless cuts of sequestration, which are already hurting readiness and, if left unabated, risk another “hollow” military.
  • Impose tougher sanctions on Russia, freezing Russian companies entirely out of dollar-denominated transactions, while sending arms and trainers to Kiev and putting at least a Brigade Combat Team into each of the Baltic republics and Poland to signal that no more aggression from Putin will be tolerated.
  • Repeal the 2016 deadline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and announce that any drawdown will be conditions based.
  • Increase the tempo of airstrikes against ISIS, and send a lot more troops to Iraq and Syria to work with indigenous groups–we need at least 15,000 personnel, not the 1,400 sent so far. This isn’t a call for U.S. ground combat troops, but we do need a lot more trainers, Special Operators, and support personnel, and they need to be free to work with forces in the field rather than being limited to working with brigade and division staffs in large bases far from the front lines.
  • Make clear that any deal with Iran will require the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities–not just a freeze that will leave it just short of nuclear weapons status.
  • End the rapprochement with Iran that has scared our closest allies in the Middle East, and make clear that the U.S. will continue its traditional, post-1979 role of containing Iranian power and siding with the likes of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE over Tehran. A good sign of such a commitment would be launching airstrikes on Iran’s proxy, Bashar al-Assad.
  • Get “fast track” authority from Congress and finish negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

Sadly, the odds are that Obama won’t do any of this except for TPP. That will leave a Republican Congress seething in frustration but its ability to compel presidential actions in foreign policy will be highly limited–even with the addition of knowledgeable lawmakers such as Senator Tom Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, and with Senator John McCain, the GOP’s leading foreign-policy voice, taking over the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers can demand that Obama submit any deal with Iran for Senate approval as a treaty and, if he refuses, they can vote to keep sanctions in place that Obama will try to suspend unilaterally–but in practice achieving this outcome will be very difficult because it will require veto-proof majorities in both houses. Democrats are happy to talk tough about Iran, but will they vote against their own president on an issue where he is sure to lobby hard? Lawmakers can also push for increases in the defense budget but this will undoubtedly require a deal with the White House in which the GOP would have to swallow higher domestic spending and/or tax increases that will be a hard sell on the right.

In the end Obama will retain tremendous discretion as commander-in-chief. We can only hope he will use his authority to stop the dissipation of American power and prestige that has occurred in recent years. He would do well to borrow a page from Jimmy Carter who became a born-again hawk after the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But given Obama’s history of stubborn adherence to ideology, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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How Mitch McConnell Outsmarted Obama

Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

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Republicans–and some desperate Democrats who saw the writing on the wall–didn’t need anyone to tell them to make last night’s midterms about President Obama. His unpopularity was not in doubt, and his responsibility for manifold governmental failures over the last several years was undeniable. And yet, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell still deserves a large share of the credit for what may seem like an obvious anti-Obama election. How McConnell outsmarted the president and saved the Senate (at least temporarily) is one of the midterms’ more fascinating subplots.

As Jonathan Tobin mentioned late last night, McConnell belongs at the top of the list of winners, while Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is second only to Obama in the losers column. Yet the efforts of both men to bring about that result are still widely–and in some cases, probably purposely–misunderstood. A perfect distillation of how to get the McConnell strategy exactly wrong comes via Vox, unsurprisingly. There, Matt Yglesias sums up the Democratic spin on how the Senate has been run by both Reid and McConnell. The spin is unambiguously false, but it does show the extent to which Reid’s mendacious propaganda actually convinced many liberals who don’t grasp the granular details of the Senate. Here’s Yglesias:

A Republican comeback of this scale was by no means guaranteed. In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren’t even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell’s counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama’s popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition[.]

Yglesias then quotes McConnell as saying “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” and adds himself:

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s quite possible Yglesias actually believes this. Many on the left have been thoroughly confused by how the Senate works, and they are almost always eager to believe the most negative portrayal of Republicans out there. But rather than Obama being generously and genuinely bipartisan, what happened was that he took his election to be a mandate for his own plans–“I won,” as he famously said.

And so the Obama strategy, with Reid’s help in the Senate, was to get what Yglesias calls the “sheen” of bipartisanship: get a very liberal bill that consists mostly of handouts to liberal interest groups and greatly increases presidential power on an issue, and pretend it’s the work of both parties by offering token, vote-buying concessions to convince a few Republicans to put their names on the overall bill. McConnell wasn’t buying it, because he understood that Obama had no intention of actually crafting bills that would prominently feature conservative ideas–the two sides were too far apart anyway.

McConnell also understood that Obama’s ideas were terrible, and would be unpopular. In some cases, we knew the bills were unpopular before they even went up for vote. Obama wanted an insurance policy (no ObamaCare pun intended): to have his name on the “achievement” if it turned out to be popular but to have Republicans own its passage in case it wasn’t. It was cynical and dishonest, and it didn’t succeed because Obama fooled his fans in the media but not McConnell.

Additionally, as anyone who follows the Senate closely knows, Reid’s strategy was to put unprecedented limits on the minority (Republicans) in the legislating process. Republicans were shut out of the traditional bipartisan role and also shut out of the amendment process. Reid didn’t want Republican input at all and didn’t want debate either. The plain fact is that it was Reid who “decided to break” the Senate, since Republicans weren’t willing to simply add their names to Obama’s legislative wish lists. And in order to protect constitutionally suspect legislation in the courts, Reid tossed out the filibuster as well.

Last night was a resounding victory for McConnell not because he sabotaged the Senate but because it confirmed what he already knew: Obama’s ideas are naïve and destructive, and therefore unpopular. McConnell’s refusal to allow his GOP minority caucus to be a rubber stamp for the disastrous liberal agenda was what stopped the midterms from being a pox on both houses and instead a referendum on those responsible for the wreckage: the Democrats.

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Midterms Were About Something: An Anti-Obama Wave

For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

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For months we were told that this was the “Seinfeld election”—a race about nothing. And most pundits also seemed to think that despite the clearly favorable terrain for Republicans in the Senate, this would not be a wave election along the lines of the big Democratic victory of 2006 and the GOP landslide of 2010. Both assumptions were wrong. The 2014 midterms were most definitely about something and that something was dissatisfaction with President Obama that created yet another historic wave.

By the time the dust settles after the Louisiana Senate runoff, it’s likely the Republicans will have won a 54-seat Senate majority, increased their stranglehold in the House to a level unseen since before World War Two, and picked up several governorships, including some in deep blue states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland.

This was a surprise for a number of reasons, chief of which was that the polls were mostly wrong. Last week I wrote about the complaints of liberals that polls showing the election as a virtual tie were skewed in favor of the Republicans because they were undercounting Hispanics and other minorities. But in fact, as political stat guru Nate Silver points out on his FiveThirtyEight blog, the polls actually had a pro-Democrat bias ranging from 4 to 12 points in states around the country.

But once we set aside the arguments about how and why the predictions were off, three things must be acknowledged:

1. There should be no doubt that this election must be considered a wave election in very much the same category as 2006 and 2010.

2. The reason for the wave was a broad dissatisfaction with President Obama.

3. The size and scope of the GOP victory and the failure of the Democrats to replicate the Obama coalitions that won in 2008 and 2012 should shake their confidence that it can be easily reconstructed in 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

The reason why so many people doubted it would be a wave had to do with the fact that congressional Republicans had negative favorability ratings that were even worse than the terrible poll numbers given President Obama. But those who assumed that these two factors would, at best, cancel each other out forgot that it’s the president who runs the country and must bear the responsibility for government dysfunction, not a divided Congress.

Examining the state-by-state results, we see almost across the board that Democrats underperformed when compared to 2012. Races that were supposed to be neck and neck like those in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and Georgia all turned out to be a near or actual GOP landslide. They will try to put this down to the problems of getting their voters out for a midterm but this underestimates their problems.

The president won in 2012 with better than 50 percent of the vote. But with his popularity ratings down to approximately 40 percent, the only way to understand the results is to realize that approximately one in five of his past supporters were so disillusioned with his performance and either stayed home on Tuesday or voted for Republicans. This happened in spite of the Democrats’ vaunted ground game that was supposed to compensate for the drawbacks of a second term president’s doldrums and add two to three points to their totals.

While it is true that overall turnout was down when compared to the last presidential election, in many states, the number of African-Americans who voted met the Democrats’ expectations. If young people, women, and Hispanics didn’t follow suit, it’s not just because the midterms are better suited to Republicans but because the leader of the Democratic Party has largely lost the faith of many of those who swept him to office on a near-messianic hope and change campaign. Though the New York Times is already telling us that the president is merely irritated with the results and doesn’t regard it as a repudiation of his presidency, that is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from this election.

Finally, the extent of the Republican victory debunks the Democrats’ pre-election sour grapes arguments that contended that even a loss in 2014 wouldn’t impact their ability to win again in the next presidential year in 2016.

It is true that Democrats have excelled in presidential years when compared to midterms in the last two such cycles. But those Democratic waves in 2008 and 2012 were mostly the function of the historic candidacies of Obama and not necessarily a reflection of the party’s appeal when he wasn’t on the ballot.

The ability of Republicans to be competitive and to even win governorships in blue states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and purple states like Wisconsin also shows that the GOP ground game has caught up to that of the Democrats. This also undermines assumptions that Republicans don’t have the ability to expand their map in 2016 with the right candidate at the top of their ticket.

So long as the president remained popular it was possible for Democrats to assume that demography would determined the destiny of future elections. But unhappiness with Obama cut the legs out of the president’s coalition and sent a message that his putative Democratic successor shouldn’t be confident about replicating his 2012 numbers when she runs for president. In that sense, this year’s anti-Obama wave shakes the foundation of the liberal media’s conventional wisdom about the political balance of power. Republicans will have plenty of opportunities to both help or hurt their cause in the next two years based on their performance in Congress. But heading into the 2016 campaign — which starts now — a midterm election that was both a wave and very much about something shows that the supposedly permanent Democratic advantage in national elections may already have started to disappear.

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