There will be plenty of time to deconstruct the Republican midterm blowout. Meanwhile, it would be fantastic if we began ditching some of its more dubious assumptions about the Obama years.
Sorry, Voters Don’t Hate ‘Obstructionism’
If we’re to believe the media-authored account of the last six years, the GOP has made rigid obstructionism of Barack Obama’s policies its sole agenda item. Even yesterday, in victory and in concession speeches, candidates of both parties told us that dysfunction was the biggest problem in DC.
Where exactly have Republicans suffered? After endless analysis of the Kentucky Senate race, Mitch McConnell, the architect of obstructionist strategy in the Senate, won re-election easily. The reality is that Republicans have been generously rewarded from their tenacity in stopping post-Obamacare progressive policy. Since 2010, the Republicans have pulled together a historic string of victories—with scores of seats changing hands in the House. If anything, what we learned is that politicians are far more likely to be penalized by the electorate for passing unworkable and overreaching legislation than they are stopping it.
There Is No Revolt Against Washington (Yet)
One of predominant talking point this week—most notably from Juan Williams, but heard all over cable news—revolved around the idea that we were experiencing some wide-ranging reaction to a broken Washington DC; a revolt against incumbency and politics in general.
Such revolutions typically live in the imagination. Most often, one party is being held accountable. And most often, change is gradual. It’s true that most voters tell pollsters they abhor the bickering in Washington. According to exit polls, more than third of those who voted for a Republican congressional candidate claimed to be dissatisfied or angry with GOP leaders in Congress. And a quarter of those who voted Democratic claimed they were dissatisfied with Obama. The reality is that only one party was punished. American voters didn’t oust incumbents, they ousted Democrats. If Pat Roberts (R, District of Columbia) could come back to win his race against a candidate whose entire rationale for running was to end partisanship, this was not about holding all DC elites accountable.
No, You Don’t Have a ‘Structural’ Problem
For months we’ve been hearing how Democrat loses could be chalked up to “structural” problems. The map was the problem. “In this election cycle, this is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower. There are a lot of states that are being contested where they just tend to tilt Republican,” Obama told a local radio station.
This was an arguable contention to start with, but it was certainly shattered by the results. Moreover, you can’t have it both ways. When the president wins, his victory is driven by issues. When Democrats lose, they’re untethered from policy or party. That myth can be put to bed. In 2012, Obama won Colorado 51.49 to 46.13 percent. Today, 55 percent of voters have a negative view of the president. While liberal Sen. Mark Udall was beaten handily, a less liberal governor, John Hickenlooper, a man who lucky enough never to have to vote for Obamacare, was, as of this writing, in a highly competitive race. In Iowa, we see essentially the same deal. Obama won the state 51.99 to 46.18 percent. Maryland, Illinois, and Virginia were all Obama-country and all saw surprisingly competitive races or worse. When you break it down, this might have been one of the least “structural” loses for any party in a long time.
No Matter How Often You Swear It’s True, Obamacare Is Not a Political Winner
We heard this contention often in the weeks leading up to the election. Republicans were allegedly shying away from criticizing Obamacare. On the other hand, there was a lot of noise made about the fact that Mark Pryor embraced one Obamacare initiative in Arkansas. Well, you see how that turned out. The fact is that some of the biggest winners in the most competitive states—Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst—were full-throated critics of the Affordable Care Act and never shied away.
More broadly, the the evidence can be found in the focus of ads. From the Weekly Standard:
Anti-Obamacare ads are dominating the airwaves in the election’s stretch run. According to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, Republicans ran nearly 13,000 anti-Obamacare ads in Senate races during the week of October 20-26. That’s after they ran nearly 12,000 anti-Obamacare ads during the week of October 13-19 and over 11,000 during the week of October 6-12. In each of those three weeks, Republicans ran far more ads against Obamacare than they — or the Democrats — ran on any other issue.
When was the last time a single piece of legislation dominated a midterm in that way? It could be that the historic Republican gains had nothing to do with the most-discussed legislation in America. A far more plausible answer is that Obamacare has fathered two colossal wave elections by the GOP in four years. Which probably makes it the least popular federal policy in our lifetimes.