The president ought to be used to this, Shellacking 2.0 in the midterm elections.
Elected twice in large turnouts, Barack Obama has tasted failure in two midterm elections where lower turnouts made the electorate more conservative; in 2010, his party was “shellacked,” in the president’s word, right after passage of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature achievement.
This year, a rebuke was not only a political tradition, typical of results for a president in his sixth year in office. It was almost foreordained that a set of U.S. Senate races in Republican-tilting states would be bad for Democrats, and they were. But serious challenges to incumbents in Obama-captured states of 2012 (Virginia and New Hampshire) went considerably beyond a red-state tilt of the playing field.
But that’s not the half of it. Republicans have a right to be jubilant about the comprehensiveness of the shellack job.
Governor’s races are one important symptom of dissatisfaction. Because of the GOP wave in 2010, and with voters sour on the economy, the notion was that some unpopular Republican governors could lose. But very narrowly, most of them held on and only one, the hapless Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, was sent home.
GOP wins in several other governor races, including the president’s home state of Illinois and Washington-neighboring Maryland — not to mention Massachusetts — speak more profoundly of voters’ dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. Unpopular GOP incumbents like Rick Scott in Florida nevertheless held on. Scott will thus be in a position to push Republican interests in one of the key states in national politics.
The Democrats had hoped to pick up at least a few seats in the U.S. House, but Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, will instead preside over the largest GOP caucus at least since the Truman administration. Young people and minorities were said to be the Democrats’ great hopes, and liberal activists whined incessantly about restrictions on voting hours or requirements for photo IDs at the polls.
We see, as in Louisiana, few of those restrictions mattering compared to the profound issue of motivation. Although U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has had her differences with Obama on policy, she also saw that the Obama drawing power that helped her win her seat in 2008 did not apply this year. She is now in a difficult runoff on Dec. 6 with U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican. Cassidy strongly stressed his opposition to Obama’s policies.
As a president, Obama has his faults and, like all presidents, he suffers from events beyond his control, such as a punishing winter that hurt the economy this year, or foreign difficulties that even the power of the United States cannot resolve painlessly.
But as a party leader, the president did not motivate his supporters to vote, and a lot of careers have been damaged or terminated in the midterms. Those losers are not going to be happy with the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.