Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic Party

Torture Focus Is Poison Pill for Democrats

Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

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Liberal Democrats and their media allies are having a field day. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has allowed the political left to go back to its favorite pastime: bashing the Bush administration and their pet demon Vice President Dick Cheney. But as good as this feels to them, Democrats should be worried about the possibility that this issue will not only carry over into the new year but become part of the left’s standard foreign-policy talking points as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Though anything that allows them to relive their glory days when hatred for all things Bush was their excuse for a political platform seems enticing, it’s actually a trap. The more the torture issue is allowed to play out as a partisan fight, the more trouble it will be for Democrats in the long run.

It’s true that reigniting a debate about the use of torture on al-Qaeda prisoners enables liberals to go back to that happy time when they could concentrate all their energy attacking Bush and Cheney as lying, torturing warmongers. It also allows them to channel their 2006 and 2008 outrage about the GOP without having to acknowledge that the man they elected to reverse everything done by the 43rd president has, without the exception of enhanced interrogation, largely kept in place the policies they thought made the last GOP president and his team liable for either prosecution as unconstitutional law breakers or even war criminals.

But, like some isolationists on the right who might be deceived into thinking the discussion about torture will help undermine support within the Republican Party for an aggressive fight against Islamist terrorism, so, too, are Democrats wrong to think talking about this will do much to enhance their prospects in 2016. To the contrary, the more the left helps focus the country on the renewed war against a brutal Islamist foe, not only are they not playing to their party’s strength, but they are also failing to understand that the national mood is very different today from where it was when Bush and Cheney were popular piñatas for the left.

It needs to be understood that the reason why the Obama administration has undertaken the half-hearted offensive it launched against ISIS was that the terror group’s atrocities reminded Americans why they were pretty comfortable with the Bush-Cheney policies before the Iraq War soured. When they were rightly afraid of another 9/11, most people weren’t terribly interested in asking questions about how the intelligence community was acting to avert another atrocity. ISIS’s beheadings of American captives revived those fears and even if that group is currently more intent on asserting control of territory than in launching spectacular terror operations, the possibility that it or another group might strike Western targets is a possibility that can’t be safely discounted.

That’s why President Obama is trying to thread the political needle by disassociating himself from both the use of torture as well as attacks on the CIA and the calls for prosecution of Bush administration officials from his party’s political base. Though he has continued much of what Bush and Cheney started, the dependence on signal rather than human intelligence combined with an emphasis on assassinating terrorists rather than capturing them and getting them to talk has undermined confidence in the ability of the security apparatus to know what the enemy is thinking or planning.

All too many on the left approach these issues as if it is always September 10, 2001. So long as terror and a Middle East made more dangerous by Obama’s retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan are not issues, they can indulge in Bush-bashing to their heart’s content. But miring themselves in the politics of the Bush administration hurts the ability of Democrats to put themselves forward as a serious foreign-policy party at a time when terror is back on the national radar and likely to remain there for the next two years. It will also hamstring Hillary Clinton’s attempt to position herself again as a more responsible foreign-policy leader than Obama. The torture debate will bring to the fore exactly those figures in the Democratic Party who are most likely to make centrist voters think they shouldn’t be trusted with the country’s security. That’s good news for MSNBC and its dwindling band of viewers but bad for a party that needs to spend more time trying to appeal to white middle and working class independent voters rather than its left-wing core.

Just as important, Democrats gang tackling Republicans who are part of the nation’s past will mean less time spent trying to demonize the GOP figures they should be afraid of among the large field of credible presidential candidates. Those on the left that think that’s smart politics are setting their party up for a long, comfortable stay in opposition rather than winning in 2016.

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The Last Day of Congressional Democrats

The outcome of tomorrow’s Louisiana Senate runoff election is not in much doubt. With the most recent state poll showing Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy with a whopping 26-point lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, it is a virtual certainty that the last vote of the 2014 midterms will ensure that the GOP will have a 54-46 Senate majority in January. Even before the votes are counted, the result is being rightly touted as the end of the Democratic Party in the South. But while the reasons for this are worth examining, it’s also important to point out that the implications of this trend have more than a regional impact. Just as the Democrats have developed a built-in advantage in the Electoral College in presidential elections, a new solid South in the hands of the Republicans means they have now acquired an equally potent edge that should allow them to retain control of Congress for the foreseeable future.

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The outcome of tomorrow’s Louisiana Senate runoff election is not in much doubt. With the most recent state poll showing Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy with a whopping 26-point lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, it is a virtual certainty that the last vote of the 2014 midterms will ensure that the GOP will have a 54-46 Senate majority in January. Even before the votes are counted, the result is being rightly touted as the end of the Democratic Party in the South. But while the reasons for this are worth examining, it’s also important to point out that the implications of this trend have more than a regional impact. Just as the Democrats have developed a built-in advantage in the Electoral College in presidential elections, a new solid South in the hands of the Republicans means they have now acquired an equally potent edge that should allow them to retain control of Congress for the foreseeable future.

As Nate Cohn writes in the New York Times’s Upshot section, though most put the shift of the South into the GOP column down to race, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Democrats survived and even thrived at times in the Deep South decades after Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” enabled Republicans to flip the region into the GOP column in presidential elections. But the steady drift of the Democratic Party to the left on social, cultural, and economic issues has now alienated most voters in these states and left moderate Democrats like Landrieu increasingly isolated from both their constituencies and their national party.

As Cohn notes, blaming this solely on alleged white racism or on a backlash against President Obama ignores the fact that Democratic losses in the South can be traced to the way the party has embraced liberal issues that energize its northern and urban base but which alienates southerners:

Yet nonracial factors are most of the reason for Mr. Obama’s weakness. The long-term trends are clear. Mr. Kerry, for instance, fared worse than Michael Dukakis among most white Southerners, often losing vast swaths of traditionally Democratic countryside where once-reliably Democratic voters had either died or become disillusioned by the party’s stance on cultural issues. It seems hard to argue that the Democrats could have retained much support among rural, evangelical Southern voters as the party embraced liberalism on issues like same sex marriage and abortion.

The loss of so many House seats in the South for Democrats is often also blamed on gerrymandering. But there, as much if not more than anyplace in the country, it’s the Voting Rights Act that is at fault. By piling as many black voters as possible into absurdly shaped majority-minority districts, the legislatures have obeyed the law’s mandate and ensured the survival of a large number of black Democrats. But given the fact that southern whites now vote for Republicans in the same kind of uniform manner as blacks do for Democrats, the practice has also made it impossible to create swing districts in the South.

It is true that the two southern states where a majority of the population was born elsewhere—Virginia and Florida—remain competitive for the Democrats. But elsewhere, white Democrats are becoming a rarity.

This changes nothing in presidential elections since Republicans have been winning most of the South since Lyndon Johnson was president. But the collapse of support for moderate southern Democrats gives the GOP a built-in advantage in retaining both House and Senate majorities. Many have claimed the Republicans’ 2014 victory will be short-lived since the 2016 election map forces them to defend so many seats, including a number in states where Democrats should be expected to prevail especially in a presidential year. But the losses of seats in West Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana strips away the Democrats’ firewall that might have enabled them to mount a quick comeback in 2016 with what is expected to be a strong presidential candidate on the top of the ticket.

Pundits have spent most of the last two years focusing exclusively on the problems Republicans have experienced with minority voters in an electorate that gets less white every year. But, as I noted yesterday, the Democrats’ decision to expend all their political capital on ObamaCare when they controlled Congress from 2008 to 2010, rather than concentrating on economic issues, made a return to power for the GOP inevitable. They appear to be making the same mistake now by enacting policies—now via lawless executive orders issued by President Obama rather than legislation—on immigration that alienate more white middle and working class voters while not significantly improving their already dominant position with minorities.

All of this presents serious problems to a Democratic Party that is no longer competitive in southern states. By tying their fate so firmly to a strategy based on black and Hispanic voters, Democrats are telling a large portion of the nation to go jump in a lake. Though whites are no longer as numerous as they once were, they still are a large majority of the population. That means the GOP’s hold on white males in particular is so great as to now make their abandonment of the Democrats a far greater demographic disaster than the problems Republicans have with Hispanics.

In a sense today may be the last day of the Southern Democratic Party. But it may also be the last day when the national Democratic Party had any hope of returning to power in the Senate for some time to come.

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Dem Civil War and Demographic Destiny

Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schumer’s political analysis is must reading for both conservatives and liberals. Though he insists that tackling health care was a good idea in principle, he points out that although the plight of uninsured and rising health-care costs are important problems, 85 percent of Americans were getting their insurance from either their employers or the government (via Medicare or Medicaid). Since most of the uninsured are either not registered or don’t vote even if they are:

To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.”

But Schumer shouldn’t have stopped with his second-guessing of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The same argument can be made about President Obama’s executive orders mandating amnesty for five million illegal immigrants.

Though this measure is assumed, with reason, to be popular among Hispanic voters, the notion that it will ensure their monolithic support for Democrats in the future is a theory, not a certainty. But even if we are prepared to make that assumption, by investing so heavily in a measure that is focused on appealing only to minorities and which, at the same time, has the potential to alienate large numbers of working class and middle class voters who worry about the nation’s inability to control its borders and intensely dislike the president’s end run around the Constitution to accomplish this goal, they increased their demographic weakness in other areas.

Republicans have spent the years since their 2012 loss in the presidential election pondering their problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, unmarried women, and young voters. The ensuing debate has created an ongoing argument between those who urge greater outreach to these constituencies and those who believe the GOP has to concentrate on mobilizing its base. One needn’t choose either option to the exclusion of the other, but this discussion has become a keynote of the simmering conflict between the party establishment and its Tea Party and conservative base.

But while the mainstream press has obsessed about this Republican civil war, it ignores the looming battle among Democrats. That civil war pits people like Schumer, who may be hardcore liberals but understand that ideological policies carry a hefty price tag, against left-wingers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears to speak for the Democratic base in the same way that Ted Cruz represents Tea Partiers. Democrats paid the price that Schumer spoke of in the form of two midterm election landslides even if Barack Obama’s historic status and personal popularity enabled them to hold onto the White House in 2012.

The two presidential wins interspersed with two midterm losses has led many pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the two parties are fated to continue this pattern because of the larger turnout of Democratic constituencies in presidential years. That has led many to embrace the notion that demography is destiny, which holds that the increasingly larger share of votes cast by non-whites will not only ensure that the pattern continues but that Republicans will never again win the presidency until they become more attractive to minorities. That’s not an idea that the GOP should ignore, but it may be that the Democrats’ decision to embrace policies that alienate a far larger group—white middle class and working class male voters—will be as much of handicap in 2016 as it was in 2014.

All indications are that, like that ultimate weathervane Hillary Clinton, many Democrats prefer to follow Warren’s example and steer to the left. That may endear them to minorities as well as their liberal base. But in doing so they may be the ones dooming themselves to future disasters, not Republicans who understand that so long as they avoid looking foolish or extreme they are well positioned to reap the benefits of opposition to both ObamaCare and amnesty for illegals. Having spent the last six years branding their opponents as extremists, it seems Democrats have forgotten that the same problem exists on the left as it does on the right.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Temptation

When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

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When Senate Democrats tapped Elizabeth Warren to be their official liaison to their party’s left-wing base last Thursday, it was yet another indication of the Massachusetts senator’s stature as a liberal icon. As Politico reports, that same day Warren was also besieged by those in attendance at a meeting of major liberal donors with calls for her to run for president in 2016. But while Warren and figures close to her continue to insist that she has no interest in opposing presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, she could hardly be blamed for wondering if her decision to rule out such a race had been premature. Unlike most of the veteran politicians in both parties whose desire for the White House is no secret, we don’t know whether Warren truly wants to be president. But if she does, she may probably never have a better chance.

Unlike most efforts to persuade a person to run for president, the would-be candidate or friendly media isn’t orchestrating the Warren boomlet. Rather, it seems to be a genuine uprising on the part of many liberals against the impending coronation of Hillary Clinton and what is perceived on the left as her establishment cronies whose loyalty to hard-core liberal ideology on domestic and foreign issues is very much in question.

Moreover, Republicans aren’t the only ones who have noticed that the willingness of most Democrats to assume that she will be President Obama’s successor can’t conceal her weakness as a candidate. Clinton’s book tour was a gaffe-ridden public-relations disaster rather than a triumph. Her interventions in the midterms demonstrated the weakness of the Clinton brand. Even worse, her attempts to play to the left and imitate Warren, such as her absurd suggestion that corporations don’t create jobs, fell flat and once again her lack of authentic convictions.

No sensible politician would take on the Clinton machine blithely. The Clintons have wisely attempted to try and sew up the Democratic nomination so as to avoid the possibility of another charismatic challenger jumping in to take it from her as Barack Obama did in 2008. The strategy seems foolproof if for no other reason that the weak Democratic bench seems to be populated only with gadflies like Bernie Sanders and James Webb or lightweights like outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But if there is anyone who can fit the Obama profile of a candidate who has a better connection with the base than Clinton, it’s Warren.

The Warren rationale also could tap into the fact that both party’s bases take it as a matter of faith that it is smarter to run conviction politicians who are true believers than establishment-style moderates. Liberals are convinced that the Democrats lost the midterms because they ran away from Obama and tried to move to the center instead of highlighting left-wing talking points. A Warren candidacy plays right into this belief that Clinton may be a loser in spite of her generally strong favorability ratings because she has spent her career trying to be all things to all people.

Like Obama, Warren’s candidacy could not have been predicted only a few years ago. In just two years, Warren has gone from being an obscure figure whose chief ambition was to lead a new federal regulatory agency (Republicans have long since realized that blocking her appointment as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau backfired) to being a leader in a party that seems to have lost touch with its grass roots and has few other rising stars.

Assuming that she has any appetite for the presidency, and few who are offered a chance for it have the character to say no, there are two key questions to be asked.

One is whether there is an issue on which her candidacy could be leveraged in the same manner that Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War both endeared him to the liberal base and differentiated him from Clinton in 2008. Economic populism would be Warren’s chief issue but while Clinton’s record is weak, there is no equivalent to her vote for the Iraq War to hold against her. Warren could however compensate for that by putting herself forward as a fresh face for a party that may not wish to be dominated by the Clintons and their baggage. A Warren candidacy would also not suffer, as would any male Democrat challenging Clinton, from the idea of stopping the country from electing its first female president.

The other question is whether 2016 really is Warren’s best opportunity. Should Clinton lose to a Republican in 2016, Warren might be the presumptive front-runner for 2020. If she wins, the Democratic nomination wouldn’t be open again until 2024. But here the comparison with Obama argues in favor of her running now. Obama could have waited his turn in 2008 and looked to the future but rightly understood that he would never have a better opening in any other year. Warren could wait but although she is new to elective politics, she is not young. At 65 now, the idea of waiting until 2024 when she would be 10 years older may not be realistic.

But the most important argument in favor of her running is the fact that the grass roots of her party would embrace her. Rather than merely having a liaison to the Democratic leadership to the Senate, most liberals would prefer to be running the show. It’s clear the Democratic base agrees with President Obama’s decision to ignore the verdict of the midterm elections and push ahead with a radical left-wing agenda regardless of the consequences. That same spirit would pump life into a Warren candidacy in which Democrats could swing away at Wall Street without having to worry about offending a key Clinton constituency.

Against anyone else, Clinton would have no trouble in the primaries. But Warren would change the political equation. With Clinton looking vulnerable, Warren still has time to reconsider her decision to stay out of the 2016 fray. If she does, she may find her path to the nomination is not as steep as the Clintons would like us to believe. If she is at all tempted by the presidency, now may be her moment.

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A Lawless Presidency Will Destroy Itself

There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

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There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

The GOP-controlled Congress doesn’t appear to have legislative options that won’t involve funding measures that can be portrayed as a new government shutdown. Though it would take presidential vetoes to kick off such a confrontation, with the help of a still docile mainstream media (see Grubergate), Republican leaders understand that this is a political trap they need to avoid. However, what Democrats who assume the mass amnesty will transform the political landscape in their favor and doom Republicans to perpetual defeat are ignoring is that the executive orders will change the terms of the debate about this issue. Though there may be no way of rescinding these orders while Obama remains in office, the real political trap may be the one that the president’s arrogant assumption of unprecedented personal power may be setting for his party.

As for the justification for this action, the notion that the president must act because Congress has not done so is utterly unconvincing even for those who support the cause of immigration reform.

The presence of an estimated 11 million illegals within our borders is a problem that must eventually be dealt with in a sensible manner. Mass deportations are neither feasible nor desirable, especially with those targeted by the president’s orders that may have children or other family members who are either citizens or legal residents. It is also true that many Republicans that supported the bipartisan immigration compromise that passed the Senate last year signed on to a process that would have given illegals a path, albeit a difficult one, to citizenship.

However, the need to address the problem doesn’t justify the president’s stand.

A measure that is imposed outside of the law that is not directly tied to border security and a reform of a broken immigration system does not solve the problem. If anything, as we saw last summer, such measures only encourage more illegal immigration. That surge of illegals proved that critics of the bipartisan bill were right and those of us (including me) who supported it were wrong. The border must be secured first and then and only then will it be possible to start sorting out those who are still here without permission. That was the approach favored by many in the House of Representatives last year and a new attempt at a fix to the problem should start there rather than trying to resurrect the Senate bill as the president demands.

That is why the administration’s narrative about the executive orders is simply false. Far from the president stepping in to provide a solution where Congress failed, what he is doing is making the problem worse, not better.

Far worse is the manner in which he is doing it.

It is, strictly speaking, within the president’s lawful authority to direct agencies operating under him to exercise prosecutorial discretion. But to do so on a mass scale isn’t merely unprecedented. It breaks new ground in the expansion of executive authority. As much as the president thinks the current law is inadequate to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, it is not up to him to unilaterally legislate a new solution. Only Congress may re-write the laws of the land. The idea of a president acting unilaterally to invalidate existing statutes in such a way as to change the status of millions of persons, however sympathetic we may be to their plight, places Obama outside the law and blaming Congress for inaction does not absolve him.

Nor can it be justified as falling within the executive’s right to act in a crisis.

There are circumstances when, usually in wartime, a crisis looms and broad presidential discretion is unavoidable. But as much as advocates for the illegals may trumpet their plight, this is not a ticking bomb that requires the normal constitutional order to be set aside. If majorities in both the House and the Senate could not be found to support a measure the president deemed important, he had the normal recourse of going to the people and asking them to elect a Congress that will do so. Unfortunately for those who claim that the president has no choice but to bypass Congress, we have just undergone such an election and the people’s answer was a resounding rebuff to the White House. The president may think it is in his interest to pretend as if the midterms should not determine his behavior in his final two years in office but it was he who said his policies were on the ballot. While there was an argument prior to November 4 that claimed that it was the GOP-controlled House that was thwarting public opinion on immigration, that claim disappeared in the Republican sweep.

That brings us to the long-term political consequences of this act.

While much has been made of the impact of amnesty on the Hispanic vote, with these orders the president is digging Democrats a hole that they will have difficulty climbing out of in the next two years.

Hispanics may be grateful for the temporary end of the deportations but it will not escape their notice that in doing so the president has ended any chance of immigration reform for the rest of his term. Nor will they be unaware that a GOP successor will invalidate amnesty with a stroke of the pen as easily as the president has enacted them. Republicans will rightly understand that there is no dealing with an administration that would rather go outside the law than first negotiate in good faith with a newly elected Congress on immigration. Nor can they be blamed for thinking any deal based on promises on border enforcement will be worthless with a president who thinks he has the right to simply order non-enforcement of the laws he doesn’t like.

Even more to the point, the orders will create a backlash among the rest of the electorate that always results when presidents begin to run afoul of both the law and public opinion. A lawless presidency is something that is, by definition, dysfunctional, and that is a term that has already defined Obama’s second term up until this point. Democrats who are counting on wild applause from their base should understand that just as Republicans learned that domination by their Tea Party wing undermines their electoral viability, they too should be wary of governing from the left.

The spectacle of mass amnesty without benefit of law will shock ordinary voters, including many who are Democrats or who think the immigration system should have been fixed. After the orders, responsibility for the failure to do so will rest on Obama, not the Republicans. What the president may be doing with these orders is to remind the voters that parties that grow too comfortable with exercising authority without benefit of law must be taught a lesson, one that will be paid for by his would-be Democratic successor in 2016. Rather than building his legacy, the president may actually be ensuring that his time in office is remembered more for his lack of respect for the rule of law than any actual accomplishments.

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Dems Learn No Lessons From Defeat

In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

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In case you were wondering what lessons Democrats were trying to learn from their historic drubbing in last week’s midterms, Politico provides an interesting insight into their thinking. According to the site, during a post-election conference call with Democratic members of the House, Rep. Diane DeGette of Colorado suggested that it was time for the party to “rethink” their message since so many young voters abandoned them and voted for Republican Cory Gardner in her state. The response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was instructive. She abruptly “cut her off.” Like President Obama, Pelosi doesn’t think the loss is cause for the party to rethink anything. That leaves us asking what will it take for Democrats to draw any conclusions from an election defeat?

Like President Obama, who seemed uninterested in drawing any conclusions from the midterms, Pelosi brushed off any talk about a GOP “wave” in an interview with Politico:

“I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave,” Pelosi said in her first sit-down interview since Democrats lost a dozen House seats to Republicans on Nov. 4. “There was no wave of approval for the Republicans. I wish them congratulations, they won the election, but there was no wave of approval for anybody. There was an ebbing, an ebb tide, for us.”

That’s been a consistent theme for Democrats who prefer to interpret the elections as the consequence of a failure to generate a big enough turnout from their base to win. Like President Obama, who said he would listen to those who voted as well as those who didn’t vote, Democrats have begun to treat midterms as somehow an illegitimate test of American public opinion as opposed to presidential elections where they do better.

There is a superficial logic to their thinking as the pattern of the last four federal elections has alternated Democratic presidential wins with Republican sweeps of the midterms. But rather than worrying that their inability to translate the popularity of Barack Obama into congressional majorities since their big win in 2008, Democrats have preferred to slip into a mentality that they are a presidential party rather than one that works in the midterms. Since Democrats take it as an article of faith that their policies are unquestionably right and that most voters understand this, they see no reason to change a thing about their approach. And as long as they can keep winning presidential elections, perhaps they can get away with this.

But, as Rep. DeGette seems to understand, politics never stands still. The assumption that Democrats will always bring out enough youth, minority, and female voters to offset any of their failings may not hold up indefinitely. Indeed, the 2014 midterms ought to be a wakeup call to Democrats reminding them that their dominance of these constituencies is not, unlike the government programs they believe in, a permanent entitlement. What happened this time was not just a decline in Democratic turnout but a sign that the Democrats’ favorite memes, such as the war on women, and their reliance on minority voters may be a trap. What worked in 2012 did not work this year everywhere. Even worse, their reliance on minority voters has caused them to slip into an acceptance of the idea that other groups are the preserve of Republicans. But, as much as Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic, surely Democrats don’t think they can keep winning the presidency by getting only a third of white males. That’s a gender gap that puts the GOP’s problems with women in perspective.

While the political terrain of 2016 will be more favorable to the Democrats than this year’s vote, the ability of Republicans to expand their map and put purple states that were thought to be turning blue into play should alarm the president’s party. They should also be drawing conclusions from the fact that when Republicans put up credible candidates in competitive states, they are winning or doing far better than expected. Smart politicians might conclude that the Democratic advantage in past votes has been as much a function of awful GOP candidates as anything else. But while some of what Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are saying now can be put down to political braggadocio, there seems little doubt that they mean it when they say they think there’s no reason to change anything.

To her credit, the one Democrat that seems to be thinking seriously about what happened is Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While Wasserman Schultz is equally convinced that Democrats are right on the issue, she is at least open to the possibility that the way they’ve been selling themselves to the voters has been a mistake. She is convening a committee to study the midterms that is tasked with presenting a report early next year. If they’re smart, Democrats will use this as an opportunity to rethink a great deal of what they’ve been doing. But since DWS has been marginalized by the White House and is not liked by much of the party’s congressional leadership, the odds that anything she produces will be heard, let alone accepted, are not good. Indeed, rather than accept that dislike of his policies is the problem, Obama may decide to make the DNC chair the scapegoat for the loss.

The contrast between the Republican responses to their election defeats couldn’t be greater. In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the party underwent a collective soul searching experience that is still resonating in debates about immigration reform and other issues. Though there isn’t complete consensus about what to do, the party’s concern for recruiting good candidates and seeking to stop bad ones from gaining nominations was a start.

But Democrats don’t seem much in the mood for a similar round of introspection. Instead, they prefer to wait until 2016 when they are confident that Hillary Clinton will lead them to victory. That is a possibility. But a smarter party or one that was actually interested in ideas might consider that the loss of so many congressional seats, governors, and state legislative chambers should motivate them to do some soul searching.

It will take a presidential defeat in 2016 to force Democrats to undergo the kind of self-examination that Republicans are struggling with. But if they do, the debris from the decline for the party that Barack Obama’s unpopularity has wrought may take them more than one election cycle to fix. Nothing in politics is permanent, but there is a price that must be paid for ignoring election results. Whether they like it or not, that is one lesson Democrats may eventually learn.

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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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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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Democrats’ Pitiful Premature Sour Grapes

Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

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Faced with a likely defeat in tomorrow’s midterm elections, some Democrats are in denial and predict an unlikely victory. Others have already started to form the usual circular firing squads, pointing their fingers at either an unpopular President Obama or those politicians that tripped over themselves in embarrassing efforts to disassociate themselves from the administration. But perhaps most telling are those choosing to dismiss the significance of tomorrow’s results even before they happen. Trying to deny the inevitable or to shift blame for it when defeat happens isn’t productive but nevertheless must be termed normal political behavior. The greatest danger for Democrats in the days following their likely loss of the Senate, however, is to pretend that a midterm disaster brings with it no hard lessons for the defeated.

In recent days, the New York Times provided its liberal readership with a trifecta of midterm denial. But though these attempts to salve Democratic wounds that had not yet started bleeding were exactly what the paper’s readers want, they are the worst kind of medicine for a political party.

The most absurd was an op-ed by a Duke University professor of public policy and one his students. In it David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, a junior at the school, argue that it is time to abolish the midterms. According to them, the exercise of allowing the people to have their say about Congress every two years is a nuisance. They say it is a big waste of time that forces members to spend too much time raising money and fundraising. But the real reason they don’t like it is that lately Republicans have done better at them because congressional Democrats don’t motivate the same kind of turnout from those with a marginal interest in politics, as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Schanzer and Sullivan don’t like the “whiter, older and more educated” midterm electorate so they think the best thing is to extend House terms to four years from two and change senators from having six years in office to either four or eight (!) before they have to face the voters.

Like all efforts to change the Constitution in order to manipulate the system to immediate partisan advantage, this scheme is a farce. The reason why the Founders wanted frequent elections for the House is that they rightly believed one house of Congress should be more reflective of the political passions of the moment while the other would be more reflective of long-term concerns. The pair from Duke wish to sacrifice this laudable aim because it doesn’t currently help the party they seem to favor without remembering that it could just as easily flip to help the Democrats as it has at times in the past. While I don’t think many serious people will pay much attention to this nonsense, it does illustrate the willingness of many on the left to do anything to somehow game the system in their favor.

While that piece was just plain foolish, more destructive was the explanation for the likely Democratic loss from Times columnist Charles Blow. The writer tends to view virtually every issue through a racial lens, so it is no surprise that this extreme liberal thinks the Democrats’ big problem remains racial animus toward President Obama. He agrees with Obama that the reason for criticism of his administration is that there are “some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president.” Since black support for Obama has not wavered throughout his presidency, Blow naturally assumes that the dropoff elsewhere must be due to racism, something that is accentuated by the Democrats’ reliance on huge turnouts from African-American voters to remain competitive.

Racism still exists in America but this is, of course, the same president who won clear majorities in two presidential elections in which a lot more white people voted than blacks. But despite these historic victories, he prefers to blame his troubles on irrational hatred rather than face the facts that a lot of people have buyer’s remorse about reelecting him after a record of failure in the last two years. While Democrats have resorted to race-baiting this fall in what may prove to be a futile effort to increase black turnout, the party would be well advised to distance itself from the politics of racial grievance once the dust settles. Playing to your base is important, but, as Republicans have shown us, doing so exclusively is a formula for electoral disaster.

But perhaps Nate Cohn in the Times’s Upshot section illustrated the most dangerous variety of Democratic thinking in his piece. In it, he gives us the ultimate sour grapes interpretation by saying that even if the GOP wins in key battleground states outside of their southern comfort zone, it won’t be a big deal if it is a close margin. His point is that since Democratic turnout will inevitably be far greater in 2016, anything short of a GOP landslide means the next presidential election will repeat the pattern of 2010 and 2012 in which a Republican win was followed by an impressive Democratic victory.

While it is true that Democrats have in recent years tended to do better in presidential years, that is mostly the function of a singularly historic figure named Barack Obama. Though the party hopes Hillary Clinton will perform just as well as the putative first female president succeeding the first African-American, her poor political skills (illustrated again last week) make that a chancy proposition. The thing about politics is that it changes all the time. Any assumptions about the next election based on the last few is, in this case, another instance of wishful thinking on the part of the left, not a sober analysis.

What happened this year is that Republicans learned some of their lessons from the past few cycles, nominated good candidates, and stayed on message. Democrats thought they could survive the downturn in Obama’s popularity by playing the same tired themes about a war on women and racism but are finding that it didn’t work as well as the last time. If they lose this week, Cohn’s advice might lead them to think that they have no need to re-evaluate that mistake but should, instead, merely do more of the same in hope of a better audience in 2016.

Whatever happens tomorrow, what the loser must do is to take a hard look at their defeats, and draw the proper conclusions. If Democrats emerge on Wednesday putting it all down to racism or the accident of a midterm, they will be setting themselves up for a far worse surprise in 2016 when conditions and turnout factors may not be as favorable for them as they think.

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Race-Baiting and the Democrats’ Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Extraordinary Damage to His Party

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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Dems Prepare for World Without Obama

After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

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After two presidential election victories that were won largely on the force of his personality and the historic nature of his candidacies, Barack Obama’s political stock is low and getting lower. But while the sidelining of the president in this year’s midterm elections is depressing for his many and adoring media cheerleaders, it is an important dry run for his party. Though much of the attention in the midterms is on the Democrats efforts to retain control of the Senate, they’re also attempting to do something else: prepare for a political world without Obama. Their success this year or lack thereof may go a long way toward answering the question as to whether Obama’s past victories truly transformed American politics or were just a passing phase.

Heeding the call of his immense ego rather than the advice of his party’s political consultants, last week President Obama attempted to inject himself into this year’s midterm elections. But the unpopular president’s declaration that his policies, if not his name, was on the ballot in November was remarkable mainly for the fact that it was treated as a major political gaffe rather than as an inspiring call to arms for Democratic activists. This turn of events is a comedown for a man who entered the White House like a messiah but will spend his last years there as a lame duck. But, as the New York Times reports today, the real story here is whether the Obama coalition of young people, unmarried women, minorities, and educated elites that elected him twice is a foundation for his party’s future or something that stopped being relevant after 2012.

The president’s supporters believe he can still play a role in mobilizing key Democratic constituencies. In deep-blue states like Illinois, New York, and California that might be true. But as the president’s poll numbers head south, the idea that the magic of his personality can create a governing majority is no longer viable. With Democratic candidates in battleground states avoiding the unpopular chief executive like the plague, it is increasingly clear that his party is on its own.

It should be remembered that in the wake of the 2008 and 2012 elections, we were treated to a round of Democratic triumphalism about Obama having changed American politics in a way that gave his party what amounted to a permanent majority for the foreseeable future. That in turn generated a companion wave of Republican pessimism about their inability to win in a changing demographic environment in which minority voters would ensure GOP losses in national elections.

But like all such predictions (remember how George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 was thought to herald a permanent GOP majority?), these analyses failed to take into account that issues, candidates, and circumstances make each election a unique event. The Democrats’ victories were impressive and influenced heavily by the fact that the electorate is less white than it was only a decade ago. But if you take the Obama factor out of the equation, the notion of a permanent hope-and-change coalition seems more like science fiction than political science.

As the Times notes, the president isn’t only less popular among groups that are less inclined to support him but also among those that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories like young people and women. While no one thought that Obama would be anything but a liability to Democrats in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, or Georgia, he’s also being politely asked to keep out of swing states like North Carolina and even light blue states like Michigan. All of which means that this midterm is shaping up as a preview of 2016 when Democrats will try to win a national election without the old Obama magic helping them.

One Democratic answer centers on their past and their likely 2016 nominee: the Clintons. Hillary Clinton will have her own coalition to build and can certainly count on enthusiasm for what may be our first major-party female candidate for president. But as much as Democrats in states like Arkansas are happy to welcome her husband in to help bolster their tickets, it may be too much to ask even of Bill Clinton to expect him to save incumbents like Mark Prior.

Without the Obama personality cult boosting Democratic turnout, they will have to fall back on their technological edge in turnout and organization. Yet in the end each election is decided more on the names on the ballots than anything else. It remains to be seen whether the Democrats’ shaky incumbents and weak bench is strong enough to build on what Obama accomplished. But those who are counting on the same sort of enthusiasm fueling future Democratic campaigns need to explain who, in the absence of a charismatic leader, can give a reason for voters to heed the social networking appeals and other strategies that have worked so well for them in the recent past.

A world without Obama is terra incognita for a Democratic Party that must prove it can win a victory without the aid of a boogeyman like George W. Bush or a hope-and-change messiah. Moreover, eight years of a largely failed presidency has altered the political landscape just as much as the changing demographics. Next month we will get the first indication whether Democrats are equipped to deal with that dilemma. If the polls that currently give the GOP an edge are any indication, they might not like the answer.

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Dems’ Texas Fantasies Don’t Add Up

Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

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Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

In today’s New York Times, we get a new version of Democratic optimism with an op-ed by liberal author Richard Parker who asserts that it’s not just the growing number of Hispanics that will transform Texas politics. According to Parker, the shift in the political balance of power has as much to do with the increasing influence of cities as it does to ethnicity. He argues that the growing dominance of urban voters will play just as decisive a role in bringing the Democrats back to power in Austin. He thinks the ability of President Obama to win all of Texas’s big urban counties and cities in 2012 should interest us just as much as the fact that a majority of Texans will likely be of Hispanic origin in 10-20 years. Since even in Texas people who live in cities tend to be more liberal on both economics and social issues, it stands to reason that the growth of these cities heralds the inevitable end of the GOP stranglehold on Texas politics. This leads him to think that not only does Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis—a national favorite of liberals but a heavy underdog in Texas—have a shot at winning this year but that she or a successor is likely to be victorious four years from now.

But like the assumptions about Hispanics paving the way for Texas turning purple, if not blue, this thesis may not be correct.

Ironically on the same day that Parker’s essay appeared, Politico published a piece by conservative author Wayne Thorburn that argues that liberal triumphalism about Texas is mostly wishful thinking.

Thorburn doesn’t dispute that the number of Hispanics is going up from the 37.6 percent of Texas residents reported by the 2010 census. But he points out that a lot of the assumptions about Texas Hispanics are not backed up by the facts.

The first big problem for Democrats is that a sizable percentage of the 10 million Texans classified as Hispanic are not eligible to vote. Parker writes that one million of them are “undocumented non-citizens”—a politically correct way of saying they are illegal immigrants. A large number of other Hispanics are either green card holders who may eventually become citizens or those who hold student visas. Of those who are entitled to vote, only 38.8 percent are registered as opposed to more than 61 percent of the white population.

If that doesn’t sober up Democrats, they should also take into account the fact that Texas Hispanics are less likely to vote for Democrats than those living in deep-blue states like California or New York. Mitt Romney may have only gotten 27 percent of the national Hispanic vote in 2012 but he got approximately ten percent more in Texas. Urban voters may be more likely to be more liberal on social issues but Hispanics, especially those in Texas, appear to be socially conservative and that has helped the GOP hold onto a bigger share of their vote than elsewhere.

All these factors should enable Republicans to go on winning in Texas even if their margins may be diminished.

But the main point here isn’t just about Hispanic voters. It’s that all formulas that assume that voters will behave in exactly the way they have previously are inherently suspect.

Liberals like Parker assume that being urban means being liberal just as others assume Hispanic identity means a vote for the Democrats. Those assumptions are based on past experience and are therefore sound. But what he and anyone else who makes blanket assumptions about Texas or any other state must take into account is the fact that candidates, parties, and ideas still matter more than ethnicity or where you live.

After all, Texas was once part of the solid Democratic south. It changed not because of any demographic shift but because the Democrats’ shift to the left in the 1960s and ’70s rendered them vulnerable to a GOP that had become more identified with support of a strong national defense and hostility to big government than their rivals. That’s why Ronald Reagan swept Texas and it’s the same reason why a Republican Hispanic by the name of Ted Cruz won election to the U.S. Senate there in a landslide (including 40 percent of the Hispanic vote) in 2012.

It is possible that Democrats could pull some future upsets if they nominate candidates who are more conservative than their national party. But the rise of Wendy Davis to national prominence on the back of her abortion filibuster in the state legislature illustrates the conundrum at the heart of Parker’s assumptions. Davis is exactly the kind of candidate who is likely to engender enthusiasm in liberal urban centers like Austin. But amid a multitude of problems that have plagued her gubernatorial run is the fact that she has little appeal to a Hispanic population that doesn’t view abortion as favorably as other Democrats. Nor is there any reason to assume that Hispanic Democrats like the Castro brothers are going to have the traction to flip moderate swing voters.

Demographic determinism may be heady stuff for political scientists but in real life politics isn’t science. Until Democrats learn that lesson and start trying to appeal to conservatives, their Texas scenarios will remain fantasies.

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Dem Senate Comeback May Be Fool’s Gold

Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

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Just last week, pundits and prognosticators were starting to speculate about whether the clear Republican advantage in this year’s midterm election would result in a true wave that would be comparable to past GOP landslides in 2010 and 1994. But a few polls later, it appears the Democrats’ stock is going up with some claiming that November looks more like a tossup with the odds now making a Democrat-controlled Senate in 2015 seem more likely. But before President Obama’s party starts celebrating, a close analysis of the various battleground races shouldn’t give them much comfort. And no matter what happens, the fluctuations of the polls should end the discussion about waves.

The need to frame the midterms in terms of a wave is understandable. Journalists love a story that they can wrap up in a neat unifying package that explains everything. That’s why so many political pundits are so eager to try to interpret any national election—even a congressional midterm which is really dozens if not hundreds of separate races piled together—through a single lens. The problem is that even when such elections produce a big victory for either party, the reason for all these results often is more the product of a host of local factors rather than a national tide sweeping the nation.

That’s an important lesson for pundits to remember in 2014. Within the last couple of days, the New York Times’s Upshot, the Washington Post’s The Fix, and Nate Silver’s Five-Thirty-Eight all reversed their previous findings showing the GOP as the big favorite to take the Senate and now say it is a tossup. They didn’t agree as to the reason for this momentum swing. Silver believes the decisive factor is a Democratic edge in campaign fundraising with liberal and Democratic Super PACs outspending conservative and Republican ones. He may be right about that. Now that the campaign has begun in earnest, Democrats are using their considerable resources, with the aid of their reliable cheering section in the mainstream press, to paint GOP opponents as either extremists (as they are trying to do to Joni Ernst in Iowa) or sexist fools (as they seem to have done with Thom Tillis in North Carolina who is still dealing with the “mansplaining” charge lodged against him).

Moreover, the more you break down the 2014 races, the more apparent that national trends can be irrelevant to Senate races. That’s certainly true in deep-red Kansas where incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts finds himself in deep trouble because he is considered out of touch with a state that he doesn’t live in much anymore. The willingness of his Democratic opponent to pull out of the state in favor of a Democrat-leaning independent has transformed Kansas from a GOP lock to a possible loss.

Indeed, as much as money, political pragmatism seems to be the best weapon in the Democrat arsenal this year. Wherever Democrats are doing better or holding their own, it is largely because they are seeking to distance themselves from both President Obama and the national Democratic Party. Both North Carolina incumbent Kay Hagan and Georgia challenger Michelle Nunn have been adept in fleeing the president’s embrace. Viewed in isolation, these races not only confound any thought of a Republican midterm wave but also remind us that elections are principally decided on the basis of the ability of the candidates more than the party labels they wear.

But even if we concede that the last week has provided a great deal of comfort for Democrats, they shouldn’t get too cocky. As the party in charge of the White House, they are still laboring under tremendous disadvantages this fall that provide their GOP opponents with a safety net that could cushion the impact of any surge in Democrat fundraising as a result of these new more favorable predictions. National surveys, such as the latest New York Times/CBS Poll, show President Obama’s job approval ratings still heading south. Just as important, Republicans are gaining crucial advantages with the public on the economy, foreign policy, terrorism, and immigration.

While those who would extrapolate from these numbers the seeds of a genuine Republican wave are probably exaggerating the impact of national polls on local races, the Democrats are still dealing with some very unfavorable electoral math. In order to hold the Senate, they need to take one or two Republican seats (Kansas and Georgia representing their best chances), preserve the seats of one or two of their endangered red-state incumbents (North Carolina’s Hagan being their best chance of that), win some of the tossup states like Iowa, while also avoiding losing any of the seats that they thought were not endangered like that of New Hampshire’s Jean Shaheen.

Is that doable? Yes. Is it likely? The answer here is still no.

As much as the outlook has brightened for Democrats, Stuart Rothenberg’s prediction last week that Republicans will win at least 7 seats and possible more is still the more reasonable conclusion about an electoral map and a national political atmosphere that is heavily slanted toward the GOP. Democrats may be able to stop the bleeding and stay competitive by constantly reminding voters that their name isn’t Barack Obama. But doing so also reminds the electorate why midterms trend against the party in power.

Even more to the point, unlike in the past when Republicans came up short in efforts to win back the Senate, this time they don’t appear to be burdened with a roster of terrible candidates. Weak incumbents like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, and Mark Prior in Arkansas might have survived against equally weak challengers but they didn’t get that lucky. And strong GOP candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire have put seats in play that many thought to be safe for the Democrats.

So while the pundits should forget about waves, the notion of a big Democrat comeback may be more a case of them finding fool’s gold than a real path to victory in November.

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Is Early Voting a Right or a Dem Tactic?

What will make the difference in the Democrats’ efforts to hold onto the Senate? Is it the unpopularity of President Obama? Or perhaps it’s the collapse of U.S. foreign policy? ObamaCare? According to the New York Times, policy may not be the crucial factor in determining whether, for example, embattled Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan retains her North Carolina seat. Rather, the Times asserts, it may be the altered rules for voting in the Tarheel State that will reduce the number of days in which North Carolinians may vote early from 17 to 10, a move that Democrats have denounced as racist in nature. But while turnout will be a crucial factor in the outcome, the notion that the amount of early voting days is a measure of a state’s commitment to voting rights or to the fight against racism is a partisan and pernicious myth.

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What will make the difference in the Democrats’ efforts to hold onto the Senate? Is it the unpopularity of President Obama? Or perhaps it’s the collapse of U.S. foreign policy? ObamaCare? According to the New York Times, policy may not be the crucial factor in determining whether, for example, embattled Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan retains her North Carolina seat. Rather, the Times asserts, it may be the altered rules for voting in the Tarheel State that will reduce the number of days in which North Carolinians may vote early from 17 to 10, a move that Democrats have denounced as racist in nature. But while turnout will be a crucial factor in the outcome, the notion that the amount of early voting days is a measure of a state’s commitment to voting rights or to the fight against racism is a partisan and pernicious myth.

As with their somewhat desultory efforts to exploit concerns over the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri into a rallying cry to turn out African Americans to vote for their candidates in the midterms, Democrats see allegations of racism as crucial to their efforts. That’s especially true in southern states where minorities are their key constituencies.

For the past few years, liberals have sought to assert that Republicans were doing nothing less than seeking to inaugurate a new era of Jim Crow racism by promoting voter-integrity laws that required voters to produce a picture ID to identify themselves before casting a ballot. Though most Americans believe it is nothing more than a commonsense measure, Democrats take it as an article of faith that asking someone to identify themselves by the same method required to perform virtually any transaction or to travel is racist in nature. That’s a stretch under any circumstances, but at least they can point to some statistics that show minorities are less likely to have a picture ID–though they fail to explain why they think they are less capable of obtaining a free one from the state than other citizens.

But whatever the merits of photo ID laws, the emphasis on early voting as a principle of non-racist society is baffling.

Much of the country has embraced the concept of early voting in order to broaden participation in elections. Where once the act of coming to the polls on Election Day was considered a sacred civil rite in which all should participate, many now believe that letting people vote by mail or offering opportunities to vote weeks in advance of the end of the campaign is essential to broadening the electorate.

But while one can make an argument for making voting more convenient, it’s not clear why minorities stand to benefit more from the practice than the rest of the population. Nor should mere convenience be confused with the right to vote.

It is something of a mystery as to why some Democrats seem to need gimmicks like early voting or votes by mail more than Republicans. Is it because the latter are intrinsically more invested in the system than those who feel themselves to be more marginal to society or the political establishment? Perhaps.

But the attempt to frame, as is the case in North Carolina, the contrast between 17 days of early voting and ten as the difference between an inclusive democracy committed to equality and a return to Jim Crow isn’t merely absurd; it’s a partisan smear.

To speak of that difference as a case of “voting restrictions,” as the Times refers to it in the headline of their article on the battle in North Carolina, is disingenuous. As it happens, the new rules allow the same number of hours for pre-election day voting in North Carolina as before, only not stretched out over as many days.

Early voting advocates ignore the complications that can arise from having so many people voting before the end of the campaign when candidate’s stands and statements can still influence in the outcome. With more than a third of the nation now not voting on Election Day, it must be understood that we are not all operating with the same information, a trend that is potentially more corrosive to democracy than adjustments in early voting schedules.

But even if we ignore that factor, much of this debate seems to revolve around an effort to herd as many voters into the polls before they can change their minds or lose interests in candidates. In that sense, early voting seems more partisan gimmicks—like straight party-line levers that were once common in many states—than an expansion of rights.

If liberals are really concerned about getting out the minority vote, they will devote more resources to building turnout and educating voters about the necessity of showing up at the polls. The hubbub about early voting or even voter ID seems geared more to creating a sense of grievance among minorities whose voting rights are not in question than anything else. Fomenting an attitude in which African Americans believe themselves to be discriminated against even as the polls remain wide open for them and everyone else is a partisan tactic for Democrats; not a matter of civil rights. That may get more of them to the polls to vote for Hagan and other Democrats. But it’s also designed to give them an excuse if they lose. As such, it’s a foolproof tactic for a party that knows it’s in trouble this fall.

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Democrats Are All About Power

Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

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Can you imagine a conservative or Tea Party Republican statewide candidate so determined to beat the Democrats that they would withdraw from a race in order to help an independent who might (or might not) switch to the GOP after the election? Neither can I. These days the political right in this country values ideology over mere political advantage. But not so their Democrat opponents. As this week’s news from Kansas and Alaska illustrates, one of our two major political parties is consistently playing to win and the other can’t necessarily be relied upon to do so.

In Kansas, Chad Taylor, the Democratic Senate candidate withdrew from the race. Taylor was trailing badly in the polls in a contest in which embattled Republican incumbent Pat Roberts faced his most significant competition from independent Greg Orman. This will clear the field for the former Republican turned Democrat turned independent to mount a serious challenge to Roberts who survived a tough primary fight in which his lack of a home in Kansas was a major issue.

In Alaska, something similar happened when Byron Mallott, the Democratic candidate for governor agreed to merge forces with independent Bill Walker in order to better compete against GOP incumbent Sean Parnell. The Democratic state central committee endorsed a new ticket on which Mallott will be their candidate for lieutenant governor under Walker, who dropped his membership in the Alaska Republican Party in order to facilitate this unusual marriage of convenience.

In both cases, regular liberal Democrats swallowed hard and bowed to their party’s best interests by endorsing a less ideological candidate. If that wasn’t enough, also in Alaska, incumbent Senator Mark Begich demonstrated his commitment to winning at all costs by running a television advertisement that falsely accused his GOP opponent, a former state attorney general, of responsibility for the freeing of a convict who subsequently murdered two senior citizens and raping their granddaughter. Protests from the outraged family of the victims forced Begich to take the ad off the air but his willingness to broadcast what Politico calls a “Willie Horton ad” in his quest for reelection amply illustrated a fight-to-the-death spirit that seems to be animating Democrats this year.

What’s going on?

What we’re observing in these races is the way Democrats have become a party solely devoted to power. Whereas Democrats were once even more fractious and as prone to ideological squabbles as Republicans, in recent years they have changed. The Obama era is one in which the party of Jefferson and Jackson has finally realized that the only way to enact their liberal big-government agenda is to win elections. In service to that cause they have embraced unprincipled opportunists like Charlie Crist in Florida, Orman in Kansas, and Walker in Alaska. Where liberals might have once preferred to fight centrist Democrats in a quest for purity, they understand the election of political chameleons fighting under their banner will do more to advance their cause than sticking with a principled liberal who will lose honorably.

This is in marked contrast to Republicans who have in recent years made a specialty of tearing each other apart in bitter and often pointless civil wars that have resulted in their losing Senate seats they might have won. Indeed, the whole point of the Tea Party is a reaction to the way the Republican Party seemed to lose its soul during the George W. Bush administration with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate spending like drunken sailors just like Democrats in a futile effort to win the loyalty of voters. Indeed, the ire of most Tea Partiers has always seemed to be mostly reserved for moderate Republicans—dubbed RINOs—whose defeat is considered a greater victory for true conservatism than unseating any Democrat. Purging the GOP of such heretics has been their goal and they have largely succeeded.

Contrary to the myth propagated by the liberal mainstream media, Republicans are, as a rule, no more extreme in their conservatism than the average Democrat officeholder is in their liberalism. But the Jacobin spirit demonstrated by the Tea Party—which initially represented a healthy revolt of the taxpayers against an establishment determined to ignore the wishes of the voters and feather their own nests—which has largely acted as if it is better to have a liberal win a congressional or Senate seat rather than a nominal non-conservative Republican, has done more than hurt the GOP’s electoral prospects in some cases. It has also given it the aura of a Robespierre-style junta determined to root out any ideological diversity or dissent. This fealty to principle at all costs can be more attractive in some ways than the cynicism of the Democrats. But it also seems to be rooted in an indifference to governance that ill befits any great party that seeks to rule rather than merely posture.

So while opportunistic turncoats like Crist as well as the shady maneuvers of Kansas and Alaska Democrats rightly disgust Republicans, they can also take a lesson from them. Winning isn’t the only thing in politics and dishonorable flip-flopping is a disgrace, but the only way to really stop liberal big government is to ensure that the advocates of those policies lose elections. The moral of the story is that it’s no good complaining about ObamaCare if your activists are actually doing more to elect Democrats than Republicans who might vote to repeal it.

Democrats have figured out that they are better off taking half a loaf than none at all. It remains to be seen if Republicans are mature enough to learn the same lesson before they throw away another chance to control Congress.

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Can the GOP Lower the Gender Gap?

Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

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Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus had a point when in an appearance on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, he pushed back at the story published by Politico in which the publication spun two webs that showed the GOP continuing to trail the Democrats among female voters as proof that it was “stuck in the past.” Though Priebus is right to note that the generally negative view of the Democrats held by women is nearly as bad as that of Republicans, there’s no denying that a gender gap exists. More to the point, there’s little use denying that it’s bound to get worse in 2016.

As Preibus noted, the internal polls conducted by two conservative PACs—Crossroads GPS and American Action Network—showed that 49 percent of women view Republicans negatively while 39 percent think the same of Democrats. That’s a clear gender gap and a big advantage for Democrats in any election. But the spin on the poll coming from Politico seemed to center on the notion that the GOP was hopelessly out of touch with most women who viewed them as insensitive to their issues. While carping about the characterization of his party, he acknowledged that the problem is serious and he also asserted that it was not insurmountable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this situation.

The first is that although the Democrats’ charge that Republicans are waging a “war on women” is the lowest kind of specious partisan propaganda, it has worked. Though married women still support Republicans, the problem for the GOP is that the far more numerous unmarried women have bought into the Democrats’ tactics, especially in the Middle West and Northeast.

Why? Because many young, liberal women have accepted the notion that conservative positions on economic issues and the need for smaller government hurts them. Moreover, to a generation of women who have come to believe the unfettered right to abortion and free contraception from their employers is essential to their well being, GOP arguments are bound to fall flat.

The second is that if Hillary Clinton is, as is likely, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, nothing Preibus and the Republicans do is likely to narrow the gender gap.

So should the GOP give up? No. But its expectations must be tempered by a knowledge that the Democratic advantage with the mainstream media and in the world of popular culture are going to make it very hard to erase their deficit until they find national candidates who can appeal to more women.

The RNC’s proposed response to the problem makes sense. It advocates seeking to “neutralize” Democratic arguments about “fairness” by pointing out that the best way to deal with inequality is to reform liberal big government programs that encourage the dependency that hurts poor families and women. It also correctly advises that the only way for a pro-life party to deal with abortion is to acknowledge the disagreement and then move on to other issues and to rely on the fact that many women have concerns about abortion and that even most supporters of it don’t view it as a litmus test issue. Yet if a GOP consultant quoted by Politico is right to say that many women view Republicans as the “old, white, right, out of touch” party, then it is necessary for the GOP to put forward younger, diverse candidates who can appeal to more voters.

That’s easier said than done, but it’s also just as obvious that what Republicans need to do is to recruit more female candidates. That’s something the party has done better in recent years and it can cite successes such as New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers from Washington to prove it. But, as with the need to get more visible Hispanics on the GOP line, the need for more female GOP leaders must become a priority rather than an afterthought.

For all of the negative poll numbers about women voters, Republicans need not be afraid of waging a war of ideas against a Democratic Party that has staked its future on returning to the failed liberal patent nostrums of the 1960s. But, as Preibus rightly pointed out, it is not enough to have good ideas. You’ve got to take them to the voters and articulate them in a way that can be understood and supported. Politics is, above all, a test of personalities, and until the voters start associating the GOP more with the likes of Martinez, Ayotte, and Rogers than with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, they’re not likely to change their minds.

Which is why the impending lesson of 2016 ought to be concentrating the minds of Republicans on promoting conservative women to leadership positions in the years to come. Hillary Clinton’s presence at the top of the Democratic ticket is such a powerful symbol that it is bound to offset most of the GOP’s efforts to make headway with women. Yet that makes it all the more important for a party that already has a gender gap to ensure that Republican women aren’t tokens or outliers but equal partners in promoting conservative ideas.

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Dems Overreach in War on Women Reboot

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

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Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

In Hobby Lobby, the court’s 5-4 majority established that the only guarantees that counted in the case were those of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act that set a high standard for the government to prove that it had a compelling interest to force citizens to violate their religious beliefs. As the decision stated, when it came to matters such as employment discrimination, faith cannot be an excuse for open bias. But the notion of the “right” of citizens to have free contraception or abortion-inducing drugs paid for by an employer who thinks such services violate their religion doesn’t meet the test.

The only parties that were potentially deprived of their rights in Hobby Lobby were the religious owners of the chain stores and other business people in a similar situation. The ObamaCare mandate treated their faith-based opposition to abortion drugs as irrelevant to the desire not for access to such drugs but to compel employers to pay for them. The court rightly decided that to do so to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby was to create a situation in which the owners must choose between their faith and the right to do business. This would have been an intolerable violation of their rights that would create a cribbed definition of religious liberty in which faith must be abandoned in the public square.

Yet for Democrats, this commonsense reassertion of First Amendment protections is a new war on women being waged not by congressional Republicans but by conservative justices.

That’s the message being repeated endlessly on the left as it attempts to turn Hobby Lobby into a judicial version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion. As Politico reports, it didn’t take long for Democratic operatives to begin ginning up their war machine in which the decision is now framed as an effort to impose fundamentalist religion on non-believers and to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

But what the Democrats are forgetting is that a Supreme Court decision protecting constitutional rights is not the moral equivalent of a political gaffe. Try as they might, Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling is not a repeat of Rush Limbaugh’s line about contraception advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut.”

No one, not even the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby, is telling Fluke or any other women who wants free contraception or abortion drugs not to have sex or to use these products. But they are making it clear that they should not be forced to pay for these widely available items. Do the Democrats think Americans are so stupid as to misconstrue this entirely reasonable position as a war on women?

Given the events of 2012 when a few stray remarks by Limbaugh and then Akin morphed into a media-driven campaign meme about Republicans and women, perhaps they’re not far off. Limbaugh’s foolish comments about Fluke after she testified before Congress against the mandate helped transform a debate that up until that moment had been correctly focused on the Catholic Church’s principled opposition to the federal plan. Soon, everyone, at least in the mainstream media, was discussing how mean conservatives were to women, not religious freedom.

But a court decision is not so easily hyped into that kind of a distortion. Whether Americans agree with the Greens about abortion, and most probably do not, the reasonable center of American politics understands that this case is about balancing one demand for a benefit against rights. Turning that sort of a nuanced ruling, which limited the impact to a specific kind of company and which also set limits on how far faith could override policy mandates, into a one-liner requires more than an ad buy; it can only work when political operatives are in “big lie” mode.

The Democratic push will fire up their base and that is probably all they really want. But they must also be careful. No one liked it when Limbaugh insulted Fluke and Akin’s comments were as stupid as they were indefensible. But Alito’s decision is the sort of commonsense approach to policy that most Americans crave in that it defended principle while also recognized that even faith can go too far. If Democrats go all-in on an attack on religious liberty, barring a similar error such as that of Limbaugh, they may be the ones overreaching on the issue.

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Both Parties Face Traps on Benghazi, IRS

A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

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A year ago, as the news of the IRS scandal was breaking and the fallout from Benghazi was also becoming better known, Democrats were on the defensive about possible misconduct by the administration. A year later, their panic has subsided. By steadfastly denigrating the very idea that these scandals are, in fact, scandals, the administration, its political allies, and its cheerleaders in the media have begun to see issues like Benghazi as a battle cry for their base as much as it is for the Republicans. Far from worrying about the impact of investigations into the effort to target conservative groups by the IRS or what happened in Benghazi and its aftermath, liberals are cheered by the decision by the House GOP caucus to embrace these issues.

The conceit of the Democrats’ approach is one that is shared by many fearful conservatives. They think that what is being depicted as an obsessive pursuit of either minor wrongdoing or non-scandals will turn the Republican Party into a laughingstock in much the same manner that the government shutdown did. Since they take it as a given that there is no substance to the accusations of a cover up about government actions either before or after Benghazi or that the IRS controversy involved anything but overzealous bureaucrats, they believe the deeper the GOP dives into these investigations the more Democrats will benefit.

There is some substance to these concerns, since many in the GOP caucus have shown themselves to be incapable of conducting sober investigations or being able to avoid succumbing to grandstanding when they’d be better off at least trying to pretend to be on a bipartisan search for the truth. But, as we noted here last week, the reason these issues are still alive is that there are some serious questions still left answered about administration conduct and the lies that were told after Benghazi. The same goes for the IRS investigation. Though the creation of a select committee on Benghazi is a trip for Republicans, Democrats need to be wary of both underestimating its chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, a veteran prosecutor, and also of getting stuck in the position of defending what may turn out to be the indefensible.

If all this exasperates Democrats, it’s understandable since they thought that they had already finished weathering the storm of Obama’s scandal-plagued 2013.

After ducking for cover in the wake of the revelations about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups, the confusing inconclusive narrative that House investigators were able elicit from witnesses diluted public outrage. And when Lois Lerner, the key figure in the scandal, invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination—but only after making a statement declaring her innocence and seemingly waving those rights—that led to a partisan squabble in the House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa that allowed Democrats to portray the whole thing as a witch hunt led by an intemperate partisan. That most Democrats voted not to charge Lerner with contempt for refusing to testify shows that they believe not only that there is no scandal but that Republicans will pay a price for pursuing it.

As for Benghazi, the sheer volume of congressional investigations about Benghazi that performed little in the way of actual probing similarly fed the impression that the country was ready to move on rather than searching for more answers.

But the discovery of a smoking gun email from Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes that seemed to speak of doctoring the talking points about Benghazi in order to downplay talk of terrorism and reinforce the false narrative about the attack being a case of film criticism run amok has reignited the controversy. House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to finally seat a select committee to investigate the matter may have come a year too late since the chaotic and largely incompetent hearings on the issue have done much to give former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration underlings cover. Democrats are divided as to what to do about the Benghazi committee because they are unsure whether taking part in the hearings will lend credence to the GOP probe or if staying away will make it easier for Gowdy to lead the probe toward dangerous territory for the administration.

But rather than solely focus on how much rope to give Republicans to hang themselves, Democrats shouldn’t blithely assume that Gowdy will not uncover more embarrassing revelations about the various aspects of the tragedy, including the failure to heed warnings about terrorism as well as the misleading talking points. Just as Republicans need to worry about playing their roles as dogged pursuers of the truth rather than a political attack squad, so, too, Democrats need to be careful not to overplay their hand.

Democrats acted this week as if they think they have nothing to lose in defending Lerner against contempt charges or stopping the GOP from forcing her to divulge whether anyone higher up in the government food chain had a role in the targeting of conservatives. By the same token, they seem to think that obstructing or mocking the Benghazi investigation will only help them in the midterms as well as protect Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects.

Yet if Republicans conduct a serious investigation of Benghazi—as Gowdy intends to do—Democrats would be wise to join the South Carolinian in pursuit of the truth. If the probe comes up with nothing embarrassing for the administration and Clinton, they will have lost nothing. But if the select committee—which will have subpoena power and legal counsels conducting a thorough legal process—does learn that the Rhodes email was just the tip of the iceberg, then they, and not the Republicans, will be the big losers if they continue to kibitz on the sidelines. 

The ability of the administration and the media to table these stories is finished, and the sooner Democrats realize that the better off they will be.

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Senate Auguries Get Worse for the Dems

Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

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Charlie Cook, a greatly respected election analyst, has some very bad news for Democrats.

No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority.

What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate are looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months.

Larry Sabato, equally respected, is not much more upbeat:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is where the action is this year in American politics. Right now all signs point to a near standoff in the U.S. House elections. Barring a major change in the political environment in the next few months, the 114th House is expected to closely resemble the 113th House with a slightly larger or slightly smaller Republican majority. In contrast, party control of the next Senate is definitely up for grabs this year.

Part of the reasons for the Democrats’ peril is the fact that President Obama is increasingly unpopular, that the economy is mediocre at best, and ObamaCare is deeply disliked. That’s bad enough. But also, midterm elections in a president’s sixth year are almost always bad news for the party of the president. Only in 1998 did the president’s party gain seats in the House in a sixth-year midterm.  But the Democrats did not gain any Senate seats that year.

Also, the Democrats did very well in the 2008 Senate elections, when Barack Obama had significant coattails. The Democrats won 20 of the 35 seats up for grabs that year. And whenever a party does exceptionally well in the Senate in one election, it tends to do very badly six years later. Partly that is because weak candidates who were carried on the wave usually lose as the electorate reverts to normal. In 1938, six years after FDR’s triumph in 1932, the Democrats lost 7 Senate seats. In 1986, six years after Reagan’s landslide, when the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years, the Republicans lost 5 seats (and control of the Senate).

It is, of course, way too early for the Republicans to be opening the champagne. Some dramatic event might change the electoral map. The Republicans, as they are all too often wont to do, might nominate unelectable candidates and throw away what now look like certain pickups, as they did in Indiana and Missouri in 2012.

But right now, the auguries are grim for the Democrats in the Senate.

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