You do not need to retain the services of a high-priced, K-Street consultant (I understand that “high-priced” and “K-Street” are redundant terms) to decipher the tea leaves of yesterday’s mid-year election. The message for the Obama Agenda and those who advocate for it was loud and clear: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
Last night’s results were a crushing indictment of the Democratic Party’s unquestioning embrace of the incompetence and corruption that has been the proud hallmark of this President. For six long years, voters watched as Democrats abandoned reason and integrity in order to protect “their” President and his agenda at all costs; never blinking in the face of increasing evidence of mismanagement and outright criminal activity in the Executive Branch. What they got for their loyalty was not an impressive track record of legislative victories, but a string of scandals and resignations-in-disgrace; and finally, a resounding rejection by the voters.
By the time the toxicity of the once-ubiquitous “Brand Obama” was clear, even keeping its namesake on the sidelines for the midterms was not enough to uncouple the train car transporting most Democratic incumbents and challengers, and prevent it from crashing off the rails.
Despite the dismal results of the midterms for the President’s Party, however, the writing on the political wall still is not evident to everyone. Die-hard Democrat partisans still cling to the narrative that Obama remains a sort of tragic hero, who after all of the trials and tribulations under which he has suffered, possesses still the courage (and relevancy) to rally his party. “I’m not sitting here blithely telling you we are as awesome as we can be . . . ” one top White House aide told POLITICO, “but, you hit bottom, and then you have the Obama comeback story.”
What worked for Bill Clinton -- the so-called “Comeback Kid” of the 1990s, a decade ago -- will not work for Barack Obama. Obama is no Bill Clinton.
Whereas Clinton was a consummate and charismatic politician -- one who clearly eschewed an ideological agenda in favor of actually winning political victories -- Obama remains to his core an arrogant ideologue unwilling to admit mistake; much less a man willing to swallow his pride in order to salvage some success from the embers of a crushing defeat.
We therefore almost certainly will not witness a chastened but optimistic Barack Obama rise from the ashes of his second mid-term election, to work with Republicans to accomplish at least some bipartisan benefits for the American people. Far more likely will be two more years mired in the same, tired routine of deception, bullying, brinksmanship, and unilateral actions.
But where go the Republicans, now that they have captured the brass ring of Senate majority control? Will they unite and govern as Republicans? Or will they be satisfied as so often they have been in the past, to simply cast themselves as Democrat Lite?
Americans truly are hungry for real leadership -- the type of leadership that was promised, but never delivered, by the Obama Administration. The sort of leadership often promised, but rarely delivered consistently, by the GOP.
Indeed, the Republican Party has a golden opportunity to write its own comeback story. However, to do so it will have to act out of character and – in the bargain – position itself to beat Hillary Clinton, the all-but-certain Democrat nominee in 2016. Clinton will continue to put as much distance between herself and Obama as humanly possible in the coming months. Republicans will have to develop an actual record of conservative accomplishments if their nominee is to beat her; simply running against Obama – which worked in this mid-term – will not cut it in 2016.
Yesterday’s election victory is but a small prize in a much larger battle for the GOP; one it can hope to win only by recognizing and rejecting the mistakes it has made in the past, when its leaders stressed re-election and raising K-Street dollars to do so, rather than standing by and for a truly conservative legislative record. The jury is still out; but what happens in the upcoming Lame Duck session of Congress, and in the first crucial months of the 114th Congress with the GOP controlling both houses, definitely will signal in which direction the jury is leaning.