Obama’s Midterm Misconception
Democrats may be headed for a sound and meaningful defeat.


Charles C. W. Cooke

As the prognosticators have adjusted their horoscopes and hesitantly determined that the Republicans may well have a fruitful November, President Obama has sought refuge in a fantasy. “In midterms,” Obama complained to donors last night, “we get clobbered, either because we don’t think it’s important or because we get so discouraged about what’s happening in Washington that we think it’s not worth our while.” Noting obsequiously how grateful he was for their money and support, the president went on to hit a bittersweet note. “We’re going to have to get over that,” he insisted. “This is a top priority.”

Comforting as it must be for the president and his friends, there are a few rather vital words missing from this impressively aloof explanation: namely, “when I’m president.” As in, “in midterms, we get clobbered when I’m president.” As the Hill noted without favor, the Democratic party’s problem is not that its electorate is disqualified from voting in the off-years, but that its political fortunes are in poor shape. Democrats have “refused to campaign with Obama,” the paper confirmed. Why have they done this? Because they don’t wish to be associated with the White House. And why don’t they wish to be associated with the White House? Because people don’t like the president and they don’t like his signature law.

The blithe assertion that Democrats don’t do so well in the midterms has gained currency of late, as if it were an immutable rule of American politics of which all and sundry were regretfully aware. Instead it is a tautology, the argument being at root that “Democrats don’t perform well in midterm elections because people don’t go and vote for Democrats in midterm elections.” Well, yes, Virginia. That’s how politics works. When people vote for you and your interests in great numbers, you win; when they don’t, you lose.

Still, this rather simple explanation is evidently unpalatable to the president, whose inquiry into the mystery of his party’s declining fortunes will apparently not involve acknowledging just how electorally septic his primary achievement has become. “The challenge,” Obama divined before his wealthy crowd, “is that our politics in Washington have become so toxic that people just lose faith.”

As a piece of analysis, this offering suffers from the intractable problem of being untrue. While Barack Obama has been president, Democrats have certainly had a tough time with the midterms. They were “shellacked” in 2010, after they rammed through a health-care bill that the public opposed, and, if the polls are to be believed, they may well be “clobbered” in 2014 as well. But ’twas by no means ever thus. In 2006, Democrats swept all before them, winning a majority of the state governorships and regaining control of the House (+35 seats) and the Senate (+5 seats) in such style that a reeling President Bush conceded he had been given a “thumpin’.” In 1998, too, the party beat the odds. What gives?