Same game: Why Obama is ‘unfazed’

By Zac Bears

(Olivier Douliery/
(Olivier Douliery/

Liberal commentator Dana Milbank of The Washington Post noted last Wednesday that President Obama seems “unfazed” by the results of the 2014 midterm elections.

Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C., as The Onion so perfectly summarized in its Election Day headline: “Republicans Poised To Retain Control Of Senate.”

While the Democrats have had a nominal Senate majority since 2006, the Senate has become “supermajoritarian,” meaning that if one party won’t compromise, a simple majority of 51 votes isn’t enough to pass legislation. Instead, the majority party needs 60 votes, or a “supermajority.”

In reality, their majority died in February 2010, when Scott Brown was sworn in as senator from Massachusetts and Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down on his obstructionist agenda.

He obviously did not meet his stated goal, which was to make Obama a one-term president. Yet the obstruction continued as Republicans won the House in 2010, and in not using their legislative power, brought the economy back to the brink of recession with the budget crisis in 2011.

The 2014 election changes nothing. Without a Senate majority, House Republicans shut down the government in 2013, and Democratic nominations and broadly supported public policies, such as gun background checks and minimum wage increases haven’t received enough Senate Republican votes to make it to the floor.

If obstruction continues to be the GOP agenda – as McConnell and John Boehner have signaled with calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act almost five years after its passage – then Obama and the Democrats will be in exactly the same position as they have been since 2010.

But liberal commentators and Senate Democrats are pointing fingers at Obama.

Most commentators are focusing on Obama’s perceived lack of concern with the election results. I don’t buy that. Nothing has changed; he shouldn’t be more concerned than he was last Monday.

More cutting criticisms come from Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats, according to Washington Post reporter Paul Kane. They accuse the Obama administration of being politically inept, particularly regarding the 2012 “fiscal cliff” crisis. If Congress had let the nation “go off the cliff,” tax rates would have gone up across the board, giving political power to the Democrats. Instead in a post-reelection high, Obama cut a deal with congressional Republicans and dealt away one of the Democrats best political hands.

A strategy of obstruction will also doom the Republicans in 2016. Yes, Democrats lost in several key Senate races, but Republicans had a distinct electoral advantage in 2014, as they did in 2010. With the Democrats more reliant on a younger, less white base, they face additional difficulty in getting out the vote. This is especially true in midterms, when turnout is lower.

The GOP was also defending “red” territory. Most of the contested seats were last up in 2008, Obama’s first election and a Democratic wave. The Democrats had no opportunity to expand, only defending Republican-leaning seats in a Republican-leaning election.

However, winning big in 2010 allowed Republicans to have control over U.S. House redistricting, locking in GOP control of the House for 10 years (barring extreme circumstances).

Most states’ partisan processes packed Democratic voters into districts, while keeping Republican voters spread out. Fewer Democrats win by a blowout every time, while more Republicans win closer elections by smaller but still comfortable margins.

Republicans are at a further disadvantage in 2016 because they will not have their electoral foil, Obama, to bully. As Mara Liasson, NPR’s national political correspondent, said last Tuesday night, “There hasn’t been a clash of visions. Mostly the Republicans have run on a message of Obama, bad.”

The GOP will be running against a strong economy and a white Democrat, all while attempting to convince younger and less white electorate to vote for conservative policies. And Obama’s future won’t be a factor, meaning the GOP cannot tap into the American electorate’s latent racism.

“Obama, bad,” won’t be enough next time around.

Whether it’s Nixon’s “law and order” campaign in 1968, Reagan’s black “welfare queen” in 1976, Willie Horton in 1988 or Obama in 2010 and 2014, winning an election is easier when you can demonize black people and their political representatives.

That’s a luxury the Republicans won’t have in 2016.

Zac Bears is the Opinion & Editorial Editor. He can be reached at [email protected]