Andrew Romano, a California-based writer for Yahoo News, spilled a lot of ink in recent weeks explaining why Latinos were not ditching the Democrats in this election (they moved toward the GOP by six percent overall, and more in some tight key races), why Mark Udall might “still have a shot in Colorado” (he didn’t), and why Republican governors were “flailing” in their quests for re-election (four of the five he named won, and the one who lost, the extremely unpopular Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, had long been a fifteen to twenty point underdog).
So he’s not exactly a credible pundit when he pens his newest morsel of Democratic hope-over-reality naïveté: that the big winner of the 2014 midterms was Hillary Clinton.
Romano’s wishful thinking is being echoed by many on the hard and soft left, including Forbes contributor Rick “I write from the left” Ungar, Cosmopolitan’s senior political writer Jill “Feministe” Filipovic (I didn’t’ know Cosmo even had such a position, though I suppose a magazine so focused on positions would have one of each…), Reuters political reporter Gabriel Debenedetti, AMERICAblog’s Progressive editor-in-chief John Aravosis, and editor of the National Interest, Jacob Heilbrunn.
The standard version of the “Hillary won the midterms” myth goes something like this:
1. The midterms’ massive repudiation of President Obama and what Charles Krauthammer calls “Obamaism” means that pressure from Hillary’s left including fear of a presidential run by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has all but vanished, allowing Hillary to campaign in the center rather than continuing on her “businesses don’t create jobs” idiocy. (Ungar)
2. The 2014 results were “more of a referendum on questions about Obama’s leadership rather than a sweeping rejection of Democratic policies” (Debenedetti), allowing Clinton not only to run against Republicans but also giving her more political leeway to contrast herself with President Obama.
3. Republicans will govern like right-wing nuts, including “two long years of attacks on women’s rights” (Filipovic), engaging in “shenanigans” led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) such as voting to repeal Obamacare — “just imagine the crazy things Ted Cruz and the Tea Partyers are going to come up with” (Aravosis) — while “pushing for a renewed military surge in the Middle East” (Heilbrunn), thereby allowing Hillary to campaign against an “impetuous” Republican Party that will be just as unpopular as the GOP was in 2008.
Republicans aren’t buying it. Some likely GOP presidential contenders, assuming that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016, came out of the election swinging at Hillary.
Most notably, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul led with a Twitter campaign based on the hashtag #HillarysLosers showing pictures of Clinton with the many candidates whom she supported who were trounced last Tuesday. Paul went for the jugular, posting not only that Hillary was the night’s big loser but also taunting her: “You didn’t think it could get worse than your book tour? It did.”
That post came complete with a picture of Clinton with Kentucky’s loser, Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose 15.5 percent drubbing at the hands of future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was twice as bad as polls predicted. Other #HillarysLosers as posted on Facebook — Sen. Paul blanketed social media — included incumbents Kay Hagan (NC), Mark Udall (CO), and Mark Pryor of Clinton’s “home state” of Arkansas. More than half of the candidates endorsed by Hillary lost, including seven of eight women candidates and many of the highest profile Democrats across the country.
In a Sunday interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Wisconsin Governor and likely Republican presidential aspirant Scott Walker — himself probably the biggest winner of the midterms — said that “Hillary Clinton is all about Washington” and “in many ways, she was the big loser on Tuesday because she embodies everything that’s wrong with Washington.” (Among other things, Walker was making the case that a governor would be a better candidate than a member of Congress.)
One of the few mainstream political outlets that accurately portrayed the midterms’ impact on Hillary was the National Journal. As reporter Tim Alberta put it:
President Obama took a beating Tuesday night, and therefore, so did Clinton. The midterm results represented a blistering rebuke of Obama, and it’s fantasy to think his former secretary of State and Democratic heir apparent doesn’t feel the second-hand sting. Clinton remains the highest-profile appointment of the Obama administration. She played a major role in crafting and executing the president’s foreign policy. And her likely presidential campaign, fairly or unfairly, is already viewed as an attempt to secure “Obama’s third term.” That’s dangerous territory for Clinton…
Paul and Walker’s criticisms, along with Mr. Alberta’s analysis, are valid but do not directly address the current Democratic talking points about Hillary and her midterm “victory.” Those talking points deserve direct contradiction.
1. Liberal claim: By neutering the Progressive wing of the party, the election will allow Hillary to stop selling out to the left.
Reality: Even in comparison to Barack Obama, nobody will buy a rebranding of Hillary as a centrist. She was for Obamacare, then known as Hillarycare, fifteen years before this president shoved it down the throat of an unwilling nation which is still choking on it.
One of the lessons learned by Democrats in 2014 is that their base is disheartened — a mirror image of the lesson learned painfully by Republicans in 2012. In order to raise money, staff phone banks, and get people knocking on doors, Hillary will have to motivate the Progressive base of the party — which she can only do by continuing to appeal to their leftist instincts. Trying to be a bland centrist, much less a near-Republican won’t work for Hillary any more than it worked for Bob Dole or John “maverick” McCain or even Mitt Romney (though Romney had moved aggressively to the right during the primary season).
2. Liberal claim: The election was about President Obama’s leadership rather than Democratic policy preferences, allowing Hillary to campaign somewhat against Obama and portray herself as not seeking “the third Obama term.”
Reality: Of the three claims, this one has the most merit — or at least the first half of it does. The election was as much about Barack Obama’s utter inability to lead and his “my way or the highway” approach to dealing with Republicans (and occasionally even with Democrats) than it was about specific policies despite persistent public opposition to Obamacare. Unfortunately, most independent voters (much less Democrats) are not well-enough informed to have turned against Progressivism more broadly even as they turned against its current leading representative, not realizing that he is that movement’s apotheosis.
So Hillary can attempt to stay close to Progressive policy goals while suggesting that President Obama’s methods were misguided, roughly the same criticism she (not coincidentally) offered of Obama’s mentor Saul Alinsky when she penned her 1969 Wellesley College senior thesis on the man. (Two years later she wrote Alinsky a letter asking when Rules for Radicals would be released, calling the book “the fulfillment of Revelation.” Sounds like a good place to start for another Obama term.)
But again, will the public buy it? That depends primarily on whether Republicans can lash her to the mast of the sinking ship that is the Obama legacy just as they did to now-defeated Democrats across the nation last week. You can bet that a “third Obama term” will be a phrase you’ll be utterly sick of two years from today.
3. Liberal claim: Republicans, being led by the nose by Ted Cruz, will govern like out-of-touch extremists, particularly on social issues.
Reality: Can you name a 2014 Republican candidate for a major office who aggressively campaigned against the Supreme Court’s de facto permitting of gay marriage by refusing to hear cases on the subject (something which may soon change with the Sixth Circuit’s upholding of bans on same-sex marriage)?
Yes, Ted Cruz (who was not on a ballot this year) is an outspoken champion of traditional marriage. But in a CNBC interview on October 30, Cruz said, “I support the Constitution letting each state decide each marriage law consistent with the values of their citizens. If the citizens of California decide they want to allow gay marriage, that’s a decision for them.” That led to former Rep. Barney Frank praising Cruz’s “evolution” on the issue as very “significant politically.”
And when host Joe Kernen asked Cruz if Republicans would continue to focus on social issues, Cruz immediately pivoted to taxes, economics and the constitution. Ted Cruz may be aggressive, he may be self-serving and ambitious (as all politicians are), and he may occasionally be wrong. But he’s not an idiot and will not try, much less succeed, in dragging Republicans to political suicide in a country that is moving inexorably toward a more libertarian — or at least more federalist — approach to social issues.
Similarly, can you name a Republican candidate for major office (with the possible exception of some late conservative-baiting by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts) for whom opposition to abortion was a leading campaign plank?
In Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, and elsewhere, Republican Senate candidates minimized their support for “personhood amendments.” In Colorado, “personhood” (which defines an unborn child or fetus as a person for certain legal purposes) lost for the third straight time. Although the 2014 language was narrower than the prior two failures, the measure lost 65 percent to 35 percent even as Republican Cory Gardner was defeating incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall by 2.5 percent.
As the Cook Political Report noted, among 15 issue areas on which candidates spent money advertising, social issues were the fourth lowest. Fully 78 percent of spending in that category was by Democrats as they relied on the hackneyed “war on women” strategy which, mercifully, seems to have run its course following the jump-the-shark moment of a reporter calling out “Mark Uterus” for his focus on birth control in what George Will called Udall’s “relentlessly gynecological campaign.”
Just as Hillary must appeal to her liberal base, Republicans have the unenviable task of appealing to socially conservative activists while still trying to capture the votes of independents and moderates. Perhaps Ted Cruz’s appeal to federalism shows such a path.
In his post-election press conference, future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave a welcome demonstration of the long-lost sound of adult supervision inside the beltway. McConnell may have the occasional tug-of-war with Tea Party-oriented Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), and perhaps the newly-elected Tom Cotton (AR) and Ben Sasse (NE). But he is a disciplined and experienced Washington hand who appreciates the institution he will soon lead. McConnell will ensure that Republicans — even if they do hold hearings exploring the worst failures and abuses of the Obama administration, which they should — are shown as rational leaders rather than as “right-wing whack-jobs” and the “Party of No.”
As we watch the implosion of the Obama presidency, many Democrats have (and many have long had) buyer’s remorse over not electing Hillary Clinton in 2008. With an electoral tidal wave sweeping Democrats out of power across the country last week, the left find themselves in need of happy thoughts.
This week, that happy thought is that “Hillary won the midterms,” her post-election vanishing act notwithstanding.
Although the electoral map will be daunting for Republicans in 2016, having to defend 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for election, the public mood will remain sour because President Obama’s narcissism prevents him from recognizing the degree to which the election was a referendum on him; his behavior, his petty tyranny, his abuse of executive branch authority, his single-minded political focus on hurting Republicans, will not change.
It will be challenging for Hillary Clinton to market herself as different enough from Barack Obama that the country would want to risk another four or eight years of political back-biting and dysfunction during a time of unmatched-in-recent-years peril to the civilized world. Indeed, the more that foreign policy remains in the headlines, the worse it is for Hillary “reset button” Clinton whose term as Secretary of State is notable only for how effectively she used it to stay away from her husband.
The next two years are a critical time for Republicans, who too often find ways to disappoint, to prove to the American public — once again willing to give them a try — that they deserve to hold the reins of power. Yes, even Republicans can learn, aided by sober-minded leadership but still guided by principle.
Their first step forward to victory in 2016 should be a strong performance in the 114th Congress. Then, despite the left’s current fantasy, the eventual Republican presidential nominee will be further boosted by the fact that the midterm elections harmed few people as much as they harmed Hillary Rodham Clinton.