Two weeks ago Barack Obama presided over the electoral cataclysm he and his party richly deserved, but managed to escape, in 2012.
The Democrats lost eight Senate seats, a number that will grow to nine on December 6 when Bill Cassidy finishes off the mortally wounded Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. It might even climb to ten if West Virginia’s Joe Manchin gets around to doing the political math in his home state. In the House, an already quite healthy Republican majority reached a size not seen in nearly a century: officially 244 seats as of this writing, with three recounts and two runoffs possibly running the total as high as 249. And at the state level, Obama’s party was wiped out in gubernatorial elections as well as state legislative races; Republicans now have total control of half the country’s state governments, while Democrats rule only seven.
The effect of this disaster on the Democratic Party is very significant in the short term. Without wins in moderate House or state legislative districts—that is, ones not dominated by racial minorities or exotic urbanite populations—the Democrats will struggle to build a bench of candidates capable of winning statewide races outside of their redoubts on the West Coast, in the Northeast, and in Illinois. Democratic politicians with appeal to America’s suburban majority were wiped out in 2010 and 2014.
But Barack Obama doesn’t care. And unless the Republican leadership in Congress recognizes why, the long term looks grim.
Obama and his acolytes are an interesting collection of political operators. They care very much about the daily news cycle, and are quite ruthless in their attempts to win it. But the two-year congressional election cycle is a low priority; that was obvious this year as the president gave only a half-hearted effort on behalf of Democrats, and he didn’t attempt in the slightest to burnish his own approval ratings so as not to be toxic to them.
In fact, the president had incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (isn’t that a pleasant phrase to write!) protect him by killing bipartisan bills coming over from the House on governmental reform and economic stimulus. That legislation would likely have made it to his desk. Thus, Obama spent a great deal of time savaging Republicans for their lack of bipartisanship, but he clearly demonstrated none of his own, even when the public began to realize it was his failings rather the GOP’s that produced the bulk of gridlock and dysfunction.
Obama didn’t care. He’s more than willing to drop an election cycle or two, and even to suffer from low approval ratings in order to win in the big picture. He’s focused on his legacy, as many second-term presidents are, and on transforming America.
Take Obamacare. We now know, thanks to the surfacing of the Jonathan Gruber videos, that the law was founded on redistribution, passed by obfusication, and designed by people with contempt for American voters.
Add that to the pile: We know that Obamacare is economically unsound and poorly implemented, and that its most fervent advocates see it as a gateway to a single-payer system. We know that Obamacare has a negative effect on wages, and a negative effect on full-time employment. We know that it increases the number of people dependent on government, and that many of these—their hours at their jobs cut to 30 per week, which could put their families on food stamps and prevent them from building savings—will become Democratic voters for life.
We also know that the public hates Obamacare and wants it repealed. Virtually all of the new Republicans in the Senate campaigned on that basis. Polls show not only that Obamacare is unpopular, but that its ratings slide with every new revelation.
And we know that Obama will fight tooth and nail against both repeal of the law or any substantial changes to it.
Now add in amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants and the effect is turbocharged. The downward pressure on wages and employment that come as a result of flooding the market with unskilled and dirt-cheap laborers will turn a generation of American kids away from work altogether. Those with the resources to attend college as long as possible in order to escape the job market will, and we’ve already seen that Obama wants desperately to facilitate that process. Others will stay home with their parents. Teenagers without prospects—employment or educational—are more likely to turn to gangs and drugs, which turn our cities into hellholes.
The Republican leadership in the House and Senate had better not harbor any illusions about the environment they’ll be operating in. There is no compromise for the good of the nation at work here. They represent the America that is, and they have to defend it against the America that Obama wants to create. The president was willing to watch the short-term destruction of his party’s Senate majority in order to achieve that fundamental transformation.
Here’s hoping Mitch McConnell and John Boehner find the clarity and fortitude to stop it. They need to win this fight, or we’ll all lose.
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