Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Day After

It was a wave.

No, it was a FUCKING wave!

There, that's better. The first step on the road to recovery is acknowledging you've been beaten. And, make no mistake about it, the Democrats got beaten, but good. In fact, they got bludgeoned.

This was worse than 2010. Everyone saw the wave coming that year. Well, at least the 90 percent of us who weren't on hallucinogens. This year, few, if any, expected this. It wasn't just the Senate results, which were bad enough, but the gubernatorial and House ones, as well. In a word, it was devastating.

Let's break it down: A seven seat swing in the Senate (nine when Alaska comes in and Louisiana holds its runoff next month); a net gain of 14 House seats, increasing an already impressive majority (now the biggest since the days of Harry Truman); and all but one GOP governor surviving their reelections, resulting in a net gain of three statehouses. By any appreciable metric you care to employ, Tuesday night was a helluva night for the GOP.

So, what happened? How did we get here? It comes down to three main causes.

Voter Turnout: 

It was obvious from the first batch of returns that this had the makings of a brutal night for Democrats. The first sign of trouble was the easy way in which Mitch McConnell dispensed with Alison Lundergan Grimes. Most polls predicted he would win - including yours truly - but few could have predicted such a lopsided election. The race was called about 30 minutes after the polls closed.

Next up was Virginia. It was not a surprise that Ed Gillespie jumped out to an early lead here. Those who follow the state are well aware of how bifurcated it is between rural areas and the more suburban ones. What was so surprising - and shocking - was how long Gillespie held onto the lead. It wasn't until the last votes were being counted in predominantly Democratic precincts that Mark Warner - the heavy favorite going in - took the lead. Even at this point, it isn't clear who will win. A recount is almost certain to take place. No one, and I mean no one, had this race on their radar.

Next up was North Carolina. Kay Hagen had led in most of the polling going into election day. Most had her winning a close election. And for most of the night, it looked like she would survive. Then, as the night wore on, an early five point lead gradually turned into a two point deficit. A deficit Hagen never recovered from. The votes from the Democratic precincts that she was counting on, simply weren't there.

Next we travel south to Georgia. I picked this race to go to a runoff, believing that neither candidate would hit the necessary 50 percent threshold. As it turned out, David Perdue won it going away. Michelle Nunn was never really competitive in this race, even with Fulton and DeKalb Counties.

Continuing down the I-95 corridor, we come to Florida. I had Charlie Crist over Rick Scott by a comfortable margin, believing that the southern part of the state would carry him over the finish line. Well Crist had the percentages with him, but not the numbers. In Broward County, one of the most reliably Democratic counties in Florida, a total of 456, 282 people voted Tuesday. Crist got 68 percent of that vote. In the 2012 election, 751,162 people voted. Barack Obama got 67 percent of that vote. If the same number of people who voted in Broward County in 2012 had done so this election, Crist would've netted an additional 111,000 votes, or 44,000 more than Rick Scott won the whole state by.  Imagine how much larger Crist's margin of victory would've been had Dade and Palm Counties followed suit.

It was that way everywhere on the map. Democratic turnout in Iowa, Kansas, Colorado and even Illinois was way down from what it was only two years ago. There's no other way around it, the Democratic base, by and large, took the day off, while the Republican base took care of business.


While Democratic turnout was a primary culprit, equally damaging was the President's popularity, or lack thereof. I have beaten this horse to death, but it bares repeating again: Obama's inability to articulate his positions clearly has been his own worst enemy. It has permitted his opponents to define him. From the disastrous rollout of the healthcare law to his handling of ISIS, the public's perception of him, fair or otherwise, was that he was not an effective leader. Even allowing for the blatant racism in the deep South, the fact remains that he was an albatross around his party's neck.

Given his list of accomplishments, that is astounding. But in politics, perception rules over policy every time. When you consider where the country was in 2009 and where it is now, it is incomprehensible that Obama's poll numbers could be so low and yet it was those numbers that gave Republicans the ammunition they needed to go after incumbent Democrats.

The strategy proved brilliant. Like the dog in the movie "UP," who kept saying "squirrel" every time he saw one, Republicans would just drop the name Obama every chance they got and that was all they needed to get out the vote. No platform, no plan, no vision, just Obama, over and over and over again in every competitive race in the country. Even Republican incumbents that many thought were vulnerable successfully employed the strategy. Witness Scott Walker's thrashing of Mary Burke in Wisconsin as a prime example.

Failed Strategy:

And last, but hardly least, we come to the scab that ended up being the most infected. For the last two election cycles, Democrats had been the benefactors of Republican candidates fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. Let's see, there were Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch's rape comments; there was Sharon Angle's second amendment remedy; and who can forget Christine O'Donnell's "I'm not a witch" ad? By all accounts, the GOP should've rested control of the Senate two years ago, but for these buffoons and others like them.

Well this time around it wasn't the GOP that fumbled the ball at the one-yard line. It was the Democrats. Indeed, given their history, it was impressive that this time around there were no major gaffs by Republican candidates. Not that they weren't extreme in their views; only that they didn't stick their foot in their mouth. But the Dems, on the other hand, had some, shall we say, colorful moments.

Like Bruce Braley's comments about Chuck Grassley being "an Iowa farmer who never went to law school." Here's a really good way to dig your own grave. Denigrate roughly two thirds of your state's population and do it while mentioning a profession (the law) people hate almost as much as politics. If you were watching the election night results, Braley didn't win a single precinct west of Des Moines.  Watching this state's returns was like watching an avalanche. Way to go, Brucie!

And then there was Alison Lundergan Grimes' deer in a headlight moment during her debate with Mitch McConnell. That was the one when she wouldn't answer a simple question like who she voted for in 2012. Her response was one for the ages. "It's a matter of principle," she said. No, Alison, it's a matter of owing up. Any answer other than "Yes, I voted for Obama," makes it seem like you've got something to be ashamed of and no one votes for a candidate like that.

That, in a nutshell, was the issue for so many Democratic candidates across the country. One after another, they did their best to distance themselves from Obama; and the more they did this, the more foolish they looked to the electorate.

Granted, it was a Catch 22 for some of them. In the South there was nothing that Obama could've done that would've altered the outcomes. Hell, Bill Clinton practically moved back into Arkansas and yet it didn't help Mark Pryor one bit. Within seconds of the polls closing in that state, the networks called the race.

But in states like Colorado, Iowa, Florida and North Carolina, Obama's presence might've stirred up a listless base and gotten a few of them off their asses. Imagine what he could've done in Miami, Denver or Raleigh-Durham. Instead, Democrats in those states treated him like he was an Ebola patient coughing up blood. They wanted nothing to do with him and couldn't resist throwing him under the bus every chance they got. In essence, they boxed themselves into a corner, much to the delight of the GOP.

Basically the 2014 midterms could be summed up thusly: Republicans, "Obama!" Democrats, "Obama, who?"

The lesson here could not be clearer. Running away from the leader of your party and his accomplishments never works. In fact it backfires. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." An awful lot of Democrats hung themselves this year.

So now what? What happens in January? Policy wise, not a whole lot, I'm afraid. Prior to this election it took 60 votes to clear a filibuster in the Senate. Next year it will still take 60 votes. Even if Mitch McConnell does away with the filibuster altogether, Republicans will not have the votes to override a veto by Obama. In other words, they'll be in the same boat that Democrats are currently in.

The real question will be whether McConnell can control the loose cannons in his caucus like Ted Cruz. I'm betting he can't. Despite his grandiose words after his reelection, he will be in the same predicament that John Boehner is in in the House.

Already the Republican base is sounding the war drums. If you thought Darrell Issa was bad, wait until you get a load of Ron Johnson in his new position as Chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee on Government Affairs. Johnson will have the authority to call hearings and subpoena administration officials at his leisure. Can you say, "Benghazi?"

Think that's frightening? Try James Inhofe - Mr. global warming denier, himself - chairing the Committee on the Environment and Public Works; or Ted Cruz in charge of the Judiciary Committee. The late-night comics are going to have tons of material for the next two years.

And you can forget about Obama getting any of his cabinet picks or judicial nominations confirmed. And, while we're at it, let's just assume they'll be at least one more government shutdown and another near debt-ceiling default. What would Washington be without a little Russian Roulette?

This is what happens when people don't vote. You get the clown car riding into town.


Brian Weston said...

Could not agree more with your points here. The Dems got thumped - and deservedly so.

Other than the obvious issue with the voter turnout, the GOP won because of a brilliant campaign strategy. Essentially using what amount to non issues or distractions as bait to throw in the water, the Dems fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

The Dems should've been boasting Obama's economic achievements like low unemployment, high stock market, federal deficit reductions, instead they fell into the Ebola trap. They should've talked about the significant steps taken to become energy independent by refining more oil than in this country's history, instead they got caught up with defending criticism on Obama's handling of ISIS. Both these issues could've been EASILY deflected if Obama did not overreact by doing stupid things like appointing an Ebola czar and if they had asked the simple question back to the GOP as to which one of THEM would've backed Obama with votes and financially 3 years ago to respond to ISIS then (which the blank stare would've been the other way around with Mitch McConnell on that one)...and oh by the way, it seems the strategy put forth against them seems to have quieted things down at least a liitle bit (not to mention the fact Russia has mysteriously backed off too). The fact that the GOP won a campaign in which their approval ratings are in the single digits compared to Obama's 45% just reeks of piss poor execution.

Well, as you said, not a whole lot will change. As a matter of a fact, I read a brilliant comment in a thread online yesterday that said not only will we get more of the same, but given it is not just the house now, we will get MORE of the same now...

If I was a Dem and president Obama right now, I would be authoring bill after bill after bill after bill and being very public about bringing it to the floor in both chambers. If it does not get enacted, it will be for one of two reasons: it will either be voted down or more than likely be struck down as Boehner has gotten so good at doing - by not even allowing even bipartisan supported bills (a la immigration reform) to be voted on by utilizing procedural measures (hmmm...voter suppression in the HOR - who would've thunk it?). THEN America might start waking up to how obstructionalist these people are.

Oh, one more point, if there is one foreshadow I take away from this midterm regarding 2016: it MIGHT be the best presidential election for a guy like Bernie Sanders to run. And from what has happened this election and Sanders' approach lately, for as much as Hillary does not bother me, yours truly is going to have a tough time pulling the lever against him!

Prof. Walter Jameson said...


Nothing to see here; move on along now. And so it goes ... the ebb and flow of political cycles. Lest the Republicans become complacent, two years hence, they will experience a similar fate when more of their seats will be up for grabs in areas that are traditionally blue. Time and circumstances will tell the tale.

Despite what some may think, this wasn't a big surprise. I clearly had the Republicans gaining the Senate two weeks ago with a 51 to 49 majority. And I predicted this with a 95% confidence level. At that time I had Colorado going red ... and I had Kansas going red. I talked with people - actual people (Michael Tomasky should try it sometime) - who were there on the ground, in the precincts, telling me what the sentiment and mood of the electorate was. In Colorado, for instance, the electorate was steamed at Udall's seemingly singular focus on women's issues as if the country were in the time of Elizabeth Cady Stanton all over again. They saw it as nothing more than a cheap ploy. And it was. Out of Kansas, the one word that kept coming back to me was 'duplicity'. That's right, the electorate started to view Greg Orman's coyness about his caucus intentions with impatience and distrust. Sure, they didn't necessarily think the world of Pat Roberts. But at least they knew what they were getting with him. The only *minor* surprises I had in this election cycle were two states: Georgia and North Carolina. I honestly thought that Hagan would win in NC, and I thought that Nunn would eventually pull out a victory in an extremely close GA vote. Oh well -- but I never doubted that the Senate would shift to Republican control.

Prof. Walter Jameson said...


Okay, now for the blame game. Before I get into that, I feel that it's necessary to give my view on the man who seems to be the central focus of this media/pundit game: President Obama. Given all that this man has had to deal with from a prior presidency that basically trashed both the international and domestic order, President Obama has done a fairly decent job. Unfortunately, the successes of his administration, some of which are now starting to show up in the macroeconomic data, are still not getting down to many in the working and middle classes. As the Clinton campaign knew all too well in '92, it really is the economy that matters first and foremost to the electorate. And if the benefits of an improving economy aren't being felt by a majority of the electorate, then the economy is still in the crapper. It is that simple.

Another really red-hot item that kept coming up, and one that had a significantly negative impact on Democrats, was the issue of (possible) Executive amnesty to millions of individuals who are in the country illegally. The electorate, for the most part, is not against *legal* immigration. They view the issue in terms of fundamental fairness, though: People who flout existing law should not be rewarded with the status of citizenship when there are millions of others who work hard to gain that citizenship by actually following the law. To the extent that the Obama administration ignores, or just doesn't see or understand, this sentiment among an enormous swath of the electorate, they err greatly. This could affect the prospects of Democrats in key battleground areas for years to come. They need to approach this issue very cautiously and through bipartisan legislation.

Finally, I didn't find the ACA to be that much of a determining factor in this election cycle. There are elements of it that people like, and other elements they don't. It would be wise for the Republicans to tread wisely on this issue. A little fine-tuning may be in order, but outright defunding will most assuredly have a negative impact on them.

So, let's see if the grown-ups can play together in their big sandbox for next two years accomplishing something meaningful for the country. We can only hope, right? Cynicism and pessimism are two sides of a worn-out coin that should be taken out of circulation for a little while.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.

steve said...

What is it about Democrats that they seem to prefer being on the ropes (or is it bent over a table?), even when they have a steady lead? Two lessons here: 1) a president should never abandon the base that elected him. Obama was elected because young people and people of color turned out. Then, it's as if he said, "Thanks, suckers" and turned his back on them. What is there for them to get fired up about now? So the economy's doing better? Not for African-Americans, for whom the unemployment rate is 2-3 times higher. And Latinos feel betrayed over immigration reform. Sorry, you can't have Michelle or Bill parachute in at the last minute and make it look like you care. 2) Dem candidates should never abandon their president. Okay, he's an albatross, but it made them look ingenuous. Interesting that those who stuck by him and played up his victories did far better than those who left him in the ditch. Sadly, this outcome could not have come at a worse time for the world, in terms of climate change. I hope Sanders decides to run as a Democrat. They need a good shove to the left if they want people fired up.