As Obama leads Democrats into his final political battles, they are understandably nervous. Obama has cost them plenty and may still cost them more. Democrats are now pressed harder on the right and the left and Obama can no longer defend them on either flank.
In congressional seat totals, Democrats are worse off now than they were before Obama took office — holding five fewer Senate seats and 44 fewer House seats than in 2006. Counting from when a president took office, Obama has cost his party more Senate seats than any president since Carter, and more House seats than any president since Eisenhower.
Democrats know too that their substantial losses may not be over. In 2016, they will replicate their “worse case” scenario during Obama’s presidency: When he is on the electorate’s mind, but not on the election’s ballot. In such circumstances, Democrats have suffered massive losses during Obama’s two midterm elections — first losing the House in 2010, then losing the Senate in 2014.
Regardless of their nominee, Obama’s record will be the issue that drives the 2016 election. Thus far, no one but Obama has been able to make a case for that record with the American people.
However in 2016, the stakes will be markedly higher. This time, Obama could cost Democrats control not just of Congress, but of the White House too. If Democrat control of Congress and the presidency could result in Obamacare, Republican control of both could undo it — and more.
On their right flank, Democrats have ample reason to worry. Republican victories have increased the political resources going to the right, as well as control of the legislative process. This has put Democrats in a predicament: dependency on the White House to protect their Congressional minorities, while it is the White House that has brought them those minorities.
Democrats also have another problem: their left. Akin to what the Tea Party has been to Republicans, the Democrats’ left is now resurgent. As Obama has reduced Democrats’ congressional numbers, he has done so especially at the expense of conservative and moderate Democrats. The result is a congressional Democrat party that is more liberal, even as it has been losing to conservative Republicans.
Just two plus months into this Congress, there is ample evidence of the left’s increasing influence on congressional Democrats. At the same time that Republicans are claiming more political resources, the Democratic left’s ascendancy is further siphoning away remaining resources from their establishment — and with it, control over their political fortunes.
Obama has long since lost the nation’s political center, but now he is no longer the center of gravity even within his party. According to the latest Ipsos-Reuters poll (of 1,599 adults, conducted 2/21-25), 25 percent of Democrat respondents now disapprove of Obama’s job performance. While still much lower than Obama’s 86 percent disapproval rating among Republicans and 71 percent disapproval rating among Independents, it is still striking for a president who won 92 percent of Democrat votes just two years ago.
Democrats are externally pushed from the right and internally pushed from their left. It is therefore not surprising that they would be reluctant to follow a president who has caused the former and is unable to prevent the latter. Democrats find themselves hit from opposite directions and Obama is unable to hold either force in check.
Obama’s reduced clout is therefore greater than just the subtraction of its Democratic parts. Were it this alone — which is substantial — it would be simply measured by the number of Republican seats gained. But Obama’s diminution goes further still because of the left’s rise.
Congressional Democrats are increasingly unmoored. Where they had been anchored to Obama for six years, they now are beginning to drift. Obama has become a political liability across the political spectrum. His negatives among Republicans and Independents are recognized. Now his losses among Democrats are mounting as well.
As all presidents approach their term’s end, they become lame ducks and a diminishing political factor. Yet Obama’s fall entails more than just a lame duck status. It is happening on both ends of the political spectrum and quickly. There appears the possibility of a rapid White House collapse over the next two years as Congress moves to the right and left away from Obama.