There are times in life when something negative happens and a person tells himself it was the worst thing that could have possibly occurred. But then, just a little while later, something else happens that is much worse.
For Democrats, last week was one of those times.
Tuesday’s election was one of those rare occurrences when Republicans actually performed better than they could have hoped for going into an Election Day. While many of the more accurate posters had polls predicting a good portion of the Senate races as being within the margin of error, the end result was far from that. Republicans, due to a stronger-than-expected “ground game,” outperformed the polls by a significant margin.
As a matter of fact, in every state where the RNC had invested in GOTV (“Get Out the Vote”), Republican candidates got a larger portion of the vote than expected, save one — the race they lost in New Hampshire.
Their historic victory was largely due to the incredible gains made by the GOP turnout operation. Democrat pollster and strategist Celinda Lake said that the Democrats “vastly underestimate and don’t have nearly enough respect for the turnout operation of the Republicans. They’ve caught up… They have a very good [GOTV]… It’s very real.”
But to blame it all on turnout is to ignore much of the core problem with which the Democratic Party has to contend. Weak messaging (when Barack Obama is not running), an unmotivated electorate (again, when Barack Obama isn’t running) and a seriously unhealthy overconfidence in their turnout operation (which, when Barack Obama isn’t running, has never performed) are problems the Democrats will need to fix if they hope to compete successfully in future elections.
So when the president addressed the media the day after Election Day, having lost what looks like nine Senate seats and at least 12 in the House, one would be excused for thinking that he would be focused on trying to start his party along a path that would address these problems. Instead, the president doubled down and insisted that he had not really lost anything and that Republicans have to try and work with him now.
Democrats who hold elective office must have felt their hearts sink. Watching the “great red wave of 2014” wash away many of their colleagues was pretty bad, but seeing that the president — the de facto leader of their party — is insistent on staying the course instead of trying to adjust for future elections is much worse.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though. President Obama rarely, if ever, accepts responsibility for anything that happens. CNN exit polls from this year’s election found that 58 percent of voters were dissatisfied or angry with the president. But when the president was asked if he felt some responsibility, he said that “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district,” and he was therefore in a better position than the Republicans who just cleaned his party out of Congress. In 2010, as well, the president refused to accept liability for his party’s losses.
Compare that to the reaction of President Bush in 2006. Less than a minute into his opening remarks the morning after the election, without needing to be asked, he said, “As the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility.”
But our current president does not only deny that he bears any responsibility, he also doesn’t care how his actions will affect congressional Democrats in future elections. Consider that since Obamacare was passed into law, the Democrats are down 73 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate. Most effective party leaders are equipped with the ability to think long past their tenure and see the actions they take through a prism of how their party will be able to undertake future actions. This president cannot. When former Obama press secretary Jay Carney was asked if the cost of Obamacare was worth it to the Democratic Party if it would cause them to lose the Senate, he said that “it is absolutely worth it, no matter what happens” to the Democrats politically. In essence, for the president and his people, it is okay if all the Democrats in Congress lose, so long as they preserve his legacy.
Mr. Obama’s reaction to the election results shows that he hasn’t budged from this view. And that itself can cause more damage to the Democrats than this election cycle has done.