Politics & Policy

On Tuesday, Voters Delivered a Stinging Rebuke to President Obama

President-elect Trump meets with President Obama in the Oval Office, November 10, 2016. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
Against all expectations, voters gave the President a stunning message of discontent.

In the course of about six hours, what was supposed to be a Republican existential crisis turned into a Republican wave.

What was supposed to be a victory of the coalition of the ascendant became a dispiriting rout of the coalition that didn’t show up.

What was supposed to be the crowning political achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency set the predicate for the unraveling of his legacy.

Since before he was elected president, Obama put down as a marker the transformational example of Ronald Reagan. That entailed moving the political center of gravity of the country in his direction; winning re-election; and cementing his standing by securing a de facto third term for a Democratic successor.

As of 7 p.m. EST Tuesday, the Reagan standard looked to be in Obama’s grasp. His approval rating stood above 50 percent. He campaigned vigorously, and apparently effectively, in front of adoring crowds. The last round of public polling and the exit polls on Election Day showed Hillary Clinton getting over the top, and her victory seemed likely to precipitate an ugly, self-destructive Republican civil war.

By the wee hours of Wednesday, this scenario turned to ashes, and Obama could only survey the wreckage of the Democratic party and, by extension, his highest ambition.

RELATED: The Great Progressive Repudiation

Obama is a once-in-a-generation political athlete who will always be remembered as the nation’s first African-American president. But a goodly portion of what he has labored for over two terms could now wash out with the political tide.

His party has been devastated beneath him. It began in 2010, when Republicans took the House by winning 63 seats, the biggest pickup since 1948, and six seats in the Senate. In 2014, Republicans gained another 13 House seats and took control of the Senate. Democrats lost more than 900 state legislative seats in this period.

This was chalked up to the midterm effect, the product of a smaller, more Republican-leaning electorate in nonpresidential years. Well, on Tuesday night, the GOP won Senate races in blue states. It minimized losses in the House. It picked up governorships and made striking gains in state legislatures.

All in a presidential year. The GOP controls the presidency, the U.S. Senate and House, and roughly two-thirds of the country’s governorships and state legislatures. The Democrats are now, judging by the scorecard of major offices, the nation’s minority party.

From the beginning, President Obama pushed the leftmost plausible agenda without regard to political consequences.

What happened? From the beginning, President Obama pushed the leftmost plausible agenda without regard to political consequences. His signature initiative, Obamacare, was forced through Congress despite its manifest unpopularity and with the crucial assistance of obvious falsehoods. When Obama’s initial legislative overreach cost him his congressional majorities, he proceeded with executive overreach, especially on environmental regulation and immigration.

Having made no real effort at party-building and after a series of disastrous midterms where his campaigning basically saved no one, he had no protege available to try to win his third term. He had to reach back to his vanquished rival, Hillary Clinton, whose inadequacies he had exposed in the 2008 primaries and who was almost comically ill-suited to energize the Obama coalition.

RELATED: A Blow to the Non-Elite Elite

Those voters were considered Obama’s enduring political contribution — an ever-growing bloc of minorities, millennials, and the college-educated who would constitute an ideological ratchet, turning the country’s politics steadily to the left.

#related#In its first big post-Obama test, the coalition failed. Now many of the president’s substantive achievements are under threat, especially Obamacare, which is in a semicrisis, and his vast number of unilateral actions. President Trump will soon pick up his own pen and phone.

President Obama’s party is lurching toward a bloodletting after losing to perhaps the least likely presidential candidate in all of American history.

Nothing is permanent in politics, and victories often carry the seeds of future defeats. But elections are always clarifying. We now know that President Obama’s larger project has come a cropper. He is no Ronald Reagan, not even close.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2016 King Features Syndicate  

Most Popular

Education

The Shame of the Teachers’ Unions

No other group has shown as much contempt for its own work during the coronavirus crisis as teachers. Their unions are actively fighting to keep kids out of the classroom and also to limit remote instruction, lest it require too much time and attention from people who are supposed to be wholly devoted to ... Read More
Education

The Shame of the Teachers’ Unions

No other group has shown as much contempt for its own work during the coronavirus crisis as teachers. Their unions are actively fighting to keep kids out of the classroom and also to limit remote instruction, lest it require too much time and attention from people who are supposed to be wholly devoted to ... Read More
Elections

The Burning Times

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, pedantry, partisan pyromania, and suchlike. The Right loves a factional brawl, and the past week brought a pentagonic crossfire between Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David French, five right-leaning ... Read More
Elections

The Burning Times

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, pedantry, partisan pyromania, and suchlike. The Right loves a factional brawl, and the past week brought a pentagonic crossfire between Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David French, five right-leaning ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More