Some musings on the mid-terms and pre-2016 politics

November 10, 2014
by Sherry Bebitch Jeffe

JeffeNationally, a predicted narrow GOP take-over of the U.S. Senate came closer to a bone fide rout. And Republicans increased their majority in the House.

What happened? Why? What does it mean to politics and policy in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election?

One thing is perfectly clear from the mid-term elections—the voters are royally pissed. Exit polling showed a sour crowd—and an electorate that, as it usually is in off- year elections, is older, whiter, more conservative,  better off and more likely to vote Republican.

One thing is perfectly clear from the mid-term elections—the voters are royally pissed. Exit polling showed a sour crowd—and an electorate that, as it usually is in off- year elections, is older, whiter, more conservative,  better off and more likely to vote Republican.

This election must be read as referendum on the leadership of Barack Obama (which is exactly what GOP strategists wanted) and a clear repudiation of a President who appears to have lost his Mojo—even within his own party. Turnout was appallingly low—particularly among Democrats disappointed in Barack Obama or angry at his inability to produce “Hope and Change.”

The biggest factor in Tuesday’s debacle was the failure of the Democratic base—women, minorities, young people—to turn out.  The HOPE they bought into with such enthusiasm has been replaced by a sense of HOPELESSNESS.  Particularly in close races in places like North Carolina, Colorado and Florida, that made all the difference.

Voters are mad at Washington. And this President–or any President–is the personification of Washington gridlock. Presidents nearly always take a shellacking during their second-term mid-term elections. Under this President, however, Republicans have made their greatest Congressional gains since WWII.

While he has been a great campaigner and, often, a formidable speechmaker, President Obama is not a good communicator—at least not of governance.  He too often comes off as aloof and de-energized—weary of all the thorny problems that keep coming up, like Ebola or Isil or a sassy press corps.

The President has repeatedly painted himself into a corner by making promises that he can’t or doesn’t keep.  The latest example is immigration reform. He said clearly he was going to take Executive action this year—only to postpone the action until after the election—totally angering and demoralizing a huge chunk of Latino leadership and the Latino electorate—so important to the Democratic coalition.

None of this means that there is a long-term Republican wave.  Voters are cynical and fickle. 2016 is a Presidential year without the baggage of Obama on the ballot.  The Republican Party is by no means viewed favorably by the electorate—in fact, polls show that party’s approval rating lower than those of the President or Democrats, so there will be little loyalty to the crowd that was just elected.

Voters are cynical and fickle.

There is broad support for many of the President’s proposals—e.g., immigration reform, increasing the minimum wage, infrastructure investment. But the President hasn’t been able to deliver—largely because he hasn’t found a way to overcome a bitterly divided and dysfunctional Congress—or he just hasn’t engaged enough to find a way.

With Republicans in clear control of both houses of Congress, they will have the burden of accountability.  Everything can’t be blamed on Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.  All Congressional leaders have to enact policies that can win public favor and pass muster within their own caucuses—not an easy task.

And the Senate is about to get a lot more polarized.

The new GOP caucus will he more conservative—less Establishmentarian—than the current one.

The Democratic caucus, with moderates thinned out, will be more liberal than it is now.

If one of the problems voters had with Washington was that nothing got done, it’s not going to get better after this election.

To what extent will Mitch McConnell and John Boehner be able to exercise strong leadership over their caucuses?  Although Tea Party candidates didn’t score well in the primaries this year, they still pose a threat to any sitting Republican who dares to veer from their orthodoxy.  Also, there are at least three Republican Senators—Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio–who are actively pursuing Presidential runs in 2016 and will be more concerned about that race than following their leaders.

There are a few policies that might be easier to pass after the election.

A trade deal, for instance; Republicans are friendlier to giving the President fast-track authority over trade negotiations than Democrats are.

And even some Democrats think the Keystone XL oil pipeline will pass now that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can bring it to the floor.

But overall, Obama’s final two years in office are likely to be his hardest yet, at least when it comes to Congress. He’s got little to no leverage over the rising Republican class, and after this election, he’s not going to have much influence over congressional Democrats, either.

Obama’s final two years in office are likely to be his hardest yet, at least when it comes to Congress.

It’s important to note that the GOP has gotten a big boost for 2016 from their gubernatorial victories. It’s the states’ governors who have the strongest hand on the political levers of the states. And Republicans have retained control of governorships in Ohio and Florida—two critical states in Presidential elections. They’ve also breached the Democrats’ “blue wall” by taking the governorships in Mass., Maryland and Illinois.

Nonetheless, the Republicans’ path to the White House is littered with obstacles and detours.

A spirited presidential campaign will likely result in a higher turnout– especially among young voters, women and minorities.

It appears that Hilary Clinton is running and is not likely to repeat her melt-down of 2008, particularly since there is no issue comparable to her vote on the Iraq war to divide her party.  It is unlikely that Joe Biden or any other candidate could derail her drive for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

The 2016 picture is much cloudier for the Republicans.  Senator Rand Paul looks like one of the most interesting contenders in the GOP field, but some of his foreign policy and libertarian views may run afoul of many in his own party.

Jeb Bush seems interested in the race, but he’s also a bit ambivalent –especially since his ideas about education and immigration reform are problematic in the GOP primaries and caucuses.  Mitt Romney’s name  continues to pop up, but who knows.

Even before the dust settles from the 2014 elections, the 2016 campaign is on in earnest. And it’ll require a whole new playbook.

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