It appears that the Republican strategy of obstruction has finally paid off.
The media narrative prior to the elections was all about Obama’s historically low approval ratings. There were only two other president’s in recent history with lower approval ratings at this point in their Presidency – Reagan and Bush II. Both of them also lost control of congress in their 6th year in office.
What the media didn’t say was that Congressional approval ratings were at RECORD low levels – 12.7% with a disapproval rating above 80%.
Yet, even though Congress was up for re-election, Republicans successfully made Obama the focus of their campaign – again.
How did that happen?
I think that there were three inter-related forces at work.
First is simple math. There were more Democratic seats in play in states that Romney won in 2012 than Republican seats in states that Obama won.
Second, the coalition that elected Obama in 2012 did not turn out the in same numbers in 2014.
Third, Democrats in close races ran away from Obama and his policies. Republicans in those same states ran away from the Tea Party.
Here’s how all of that played out.
Simple math convinced Obama and the Democratic Party to play small ball. Rather than allow this to become the same referendum on Obama’s policies that has occurred in every federal election since 2008, the Democrats in battleground states tried to make this about local issues. They were so terrified of Republicans waving the “Obama” flag that they simply tried to change the subject. Rather than provide voters the “red meat” debate on principles that they were asking for, the Democratic Party served a selection of small issue hors d’oeuvres. The voters rejected this tactic and the Democrats lost.
Instead of talking about Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, or meaningful gun control, red state Democrats tried to paint their Republican candidates with the banner of Tea Party extremism. They talked about gridlock, failure to invest in the middle class, and accountability for things like the government shutdown. The problem is that midterm elections are generally about paycheck issues and none of those issues resonated.
The Democratic base IS traditionally difficult to turn out in non-Presidential years. If you want them to come to the polls, you have to give them a reason. That reason could have been a full throated defense of progressive principles. It could have been an appeal to all of those people who HAVE benefited from Obamacare. That would have required their Republican opponent to explain to all those who have gained coverage under Obamacare, what would happen to their coverage if a Republican got elected. Even Mitch McConnell, who vowed to uproot Obamacare “root and branch”, was forced to admit that Kynect, Kentucky’s implementation could stay because it is very popular with Kentucky voters. The Washington Post fact checkers said,
Ultimately, then, McConnell’s statements make little sense unless he has a specific plan that would allow Kentuckians who currently have insurance to retain it. He relies on narrow technical details that have a ring of truth—the grants for the Web site have ended; the Kynect Web site could continue; Medicaid expansion was a decision by the governor. But he leaves the big picture—What is his replacement plan?—completely empty.
Thus his statements are a bit slick and misleading. If he wants to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” then he has to explain what he would plant in the health-insurance garden instead. Otherwise his assurances on the future have little credibility. He earns Three Pinocchios.
Because his opponent Allison Grimes failed to engage on principles, defend Obama, and defend Obamacare – she had little standing to call him on this lie. Instead she tried to portray herself as more of a Kentuckian that McConnell. She lost.
It could have been a discussion of how Republican obstructionism has slowed economic growth and damaged the middle class. Instead of portraying themselves as staunch defenders of the poor and middle class, many of the Democratic candidates talked about their willingness to make deals.
Just to make sure they got elected, Republicans ran just as hard away from the Tea Party and toward the center. Here are some examples.
57% of Arkansas voters supported Republican Tom Cotton for Senate, but 69% supported an increase in minimum wage which Cotton also supported. Same thing in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Colorado defeated a “personhood” ballot proposal and elected Republican Cory Gardner to the Senate. Gardner had supported personhood legislation in the past, but in this close election said he had changed his mind and also supported over-the-counter birth control. He narrowly defeated incumbent Mark Udall who tried to make women’s issues the centerpiece of his campaign.
The final results aren’t in from Alaska, but there was a minimum wage measure on the ballot there too. Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan had opposed raising the minimum wage, but changed his position in this campaign.
Republican candidates in Georgia and Virginia criticized high poverty rates. The victorious Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia ran in part on his accomplishments in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Victorious Republican Senate candidate James Lankford in Oklahoma railed against income inequality, as did the Republican senate candidate in Louisiana. The new Republican governor in Illinois said taxes should target businesses rather than “low-income working families”.
Republicans, at least in part, won by distancing themselves from more radical positions associated with the Tea Party. They not only masqueraded as moderates, they openly embraced traditional Democratic positions that would have been heresy in 2010. And they won.
This great irony was pointed out by Sally Kohn in the Daily Beast.
Republicans ran as Democrats—and voters endorsed Democratic ideals both in voting for those masquerading Republicans, and in backing liberal ballot measures. For progressives, that—plus the fact that, thanks to these ballot measures, thousands of hard-working Americans are going to get a much needed basic raise—is about as silver as the lining on this election is going to get.