Thursday, November 14, 2013


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:

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.

... 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.
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?

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.


Victor said...

The Republicans are going to try to obstruct President Obama and the Democrats on any and every thing they want to do, and in any and every way they can!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for the memories - January, 2009!

Well, at least SOMETHING hasn't changed in the last 4 years and 10 months...

Dark Avenger said...

Yeah CG, you were so unfair about GWB incompetence post-Katrina, when the current trouble with Obamacare is WORSE than any screw-up by any other American President in history.

Chris Andersen said...

The overreaction of the GOP and the media is pretty much standard practice now and doesn't really piss me off.

What pisses me off is Democrats who start running around with their hair on fire any time there is a bad poll. I got sick of it in 2008 and 2012 and I'm already sick of it now.

And no, I'm not sick of the Democrats, like Jeff Merkley, who want to actually do their job and fix the inevitable problems with a program as complicated as this. I'm sick of the Democrats who scream at the top of their lungs that Obamacare is a disaster and the Republicans are going to use dissatisfaction with it in an electoral juggernaught.

Haven't these hair-on-fire Dems learned anything in the last 5 years? Nothing is ever accomplished by panicking. It's been a central tenet of Obama's success: when things go bad just fix the problem and move on.

Drama gets you no where.

Peter Janovsky said...

Nice post, Steve -- a somewhat rare optimistic take.

These dunces like Cilliza really are children following the soccer ball, and then kicking it as hard as they can, conflating every day's development into a definitive conclusion. (mostly when it's bad for Dems.)

Ten Bears said...

Stop using the term "Obamacare". It is racist and when you use it the white-dogs win.

And yes, win can pretty much wager Obama won't be re-elected in sixteen, unless we change The Constitution to qualify the son of a Nazi storm trooper. Wouldn't surprize me, after eight years of the grandson of Hitler's. financeer.

No fear.

Carl Powers said...

yea, nice to see your not so gloomy ... today. 2016 is a political millennium from now, 2014 a political century. There are at least two more budget battles looming, hopefully repubs will comport themselves as badly as they did last time.

Missy Vixen said...

OT--but wow! I thought I was the only one who felt NMMNB tended to be a bit of a downer.

Steve M. said...

Are you kidding? Even I feel I'm a bit of a downer.

Victor said...

You're such a downer, that somehow or other, you're an upper!

I think you get the endorphin's going in my system, or something.

Either that, or I'm a whacko - which, I'll openly cop to.

Examinator said...

Well, why should I change the habits of a life time....examinate

Chris Andersen says most of it for me.
Hair on fire crises are a political wonk issue... a Capitol Hill myopic internecine storm in a wash basin.

Steve, there's a pragmatic wise old axiom that goes " a day is a long time (a year is an eternity) in politics.

The reality is that the tea bag party end of the GOP is going to run hard on the issue. However, I suspect the progressively less "frothing in the mouth" Republicans on the hill will give progressively less support.

Three factors that don't seem to be factored in in the post.
- The level of average voter's political disengagement at the moment(particularly those who it doesn't effect directly).
- The dems are never going to change the GALLOPING INERTIA AFFLICTED VOTER's vote unless it INVOLVES THEM. Remember the TP protest against Social security and the sign "hand's off my Medicaid" Who amongst those are going to deny themselves a better service?
- Lastly, the overwhelming desire of voters for someone to 'take charge'. hence I agree with Chris A. and say Dems need stop running around like their hair is on fire every time a loony TB strikes a match..... TAKE CHARGE... BE SEEN TO DO THAT and pour cold water on criticism that they're not by explaining the solutions in graphic/ measurable goals. Then achieve them.

Examinator said...

PS If there must be panic ...Let it be organised!