I was going to write a long response to handwringing articles like Chris Cillizza's "Why President Obama's Sinking Job Approval Numbers Matter. A Lot," but an exchange on Twitter pretty much summed up my entire point:
Obama is in huge political trouble. I guarantee he won't win re-election in 2016.— Jeff Fecke (@jkfecke) November 14, 2013
.@ForsettisCreed Gadzooks! It's like it's every day since he took office!— Jeff Fecke (@jkfecke) November 14, 2013
Here's what Cillizza writes:
Take a look back at the election results from the second midterm elections of presidents, which is what 2014 will be. From the end of World War II until the 1986 election, the president's party lost an average of 48 seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate, according to the indispensable congressional analyst Norm Ornstein. That "six-year itch" trend has slowed in more recent second-term midterm elections -- the average losses for the president's party in the 1986, 1998 and 2006 midterms is 10 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate -- but the pattern of losses remains.I'll be sorry for the loss of Democratic seats in the House -- but Republicans manage legislative bodies they control exactly the same way whether they have a one-seat majority or a fifty-seat majority. Democrats were highly unlikely to get the House back in any case, given the extraordinary vote imbalance they need just to break even thanks to gerrymandering, so what's the effective difference?
... It's impossible to separate out how a president is doing in the eyes of the public from how voters will judge his party -- even, and maybe especially, in an election in which his name is not actually on the ballot. The relatively minor losses incurred by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and Bill Clinton's history-making gains in 1998 came as both men were remarkably well-liked by the general electorate. In 2006, a deeply unpopular George W. Bush watched his party lose 30 seats and control of the House.
And the Senate? If the worst case happens and the Senate is lost, well, the Democrats need 60 seats to have effective control of that body in any case, so how much does it really matter?
I think there's a good chance that a GOP-controlled Senate in 2015 won't include its leader, Mitch McConnell. (Even if Obamacare rights itself and proves to be acceptable or even popular to most people, I'm guessing McConnell will lose his primary and his primary opponent will in the general, because, well, it's Kentucky.) So what do you think? Are we looking at Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz? I imagine there are enough old bulls to prevent that, but I assume that any leader who replaces McConnell is going to be wingnuttier.
But we may all be jumping the gun. I don't know if the president is ever going to be truly popular again, but I still believe that Obamacare is going to settle in and seem like a reasonable program, and that we're going to have a number of very different moments between now and 2014 that are going to seem like this changes everything!! moments. Don't forget, we're going to have more budget brinkmanship in January and February. With Republicans smelling Obamacare blood now, do you think the crazies are going to be restrained at that moment? I know that Boehner and McConnell intend to herd their cats more effectively, but if there are still a few website glitches and signup shortfalls, don't you think the Cruzites are going to be out for blood?
Generally speaking, I see a lot of GOP overreach on the horizon. I think we'll be on the verge of a government shutdown at least once more next year. I think if there's a Supreme Court vacancy we'll see an attempt to prevent the president from appointing a successor. And there's always Benghazi! And impeachment! (Here comes the effort to impeach Eric Holder, though it does appear as if John Boehner is not an enthusiast.) I think the message most voters are going to take to the polls in November is not "Obamacare sucks, therefore Democrats suck," but, rather, "I hate every single officeholder in Washington."
This is a year when I expect third-party candidates to come out of the woodwork. Most are going to serve as spoilers (or as ignorable nuisances), but I think some might change the conventional wisdom a tiny bit. I'm seeing a Socialist on the verge of upsetting an incumbent Democrat in a Seattle city council race and, yes, I'm thinking, "Well, that's Seattle" -- but I wonder what would happen in congressional districts where Democrats have given up if a few progressives talking pure kitchen-table economics ran third-party. If a handful of candidates with that profile, and not shackled with the label of a hated major party -- and probably not calling themselves "socialists" -- talked about a higher minimum wage and breaking up the big banks and ditching Obamacare in favor of Medicare for all, could a few scares be put into complacent Republican incumbents? I think maybe. I think it could be that kind of crazy year.