By Dave Andrusko
I like to think that even though my politics are as far away from President Obama’s is as the East is from the West, I can give him the benefit of the doubt when he deserves it.
However, this is not that time.
Mr. Obama is touring the Near East and Europe and judging by press accounts, many leaders feel about him the way many of us do here at home: this is the same man who wrote in “The Audacity of Hope” that “There are some things that I’m absolutely sure about—the Golden Rule, the need to battle cruelty in all its forms, the value of love and charity, humility and grace”?
The title, wildly overstated, if not completely misleading , of a Washington Post story that ran today is “Obama, who once stood as party outsider, now works to strengthen Democrats.”
This is one of those accounts where the copy editor must have scratched his head, trying to make the two parts of Juliet Eilperin’s story work together.
Obama has, shall we say, ran in his own lane as President. He has presided over a colossal fall from grace for his party. “Obama has presided over a greater loss of electoral power for his party than any two-term president since World War II,” Eilperin writes. “And 2016 represents one last opportunity for him to reverse that trend.”
Here’s a lengthy but important quote:
Between 2008 and 2015, Democrats lost 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats, 11 governorships and 32 state legislative chambers, according to data compiled by University of Virginia professor Larry J. Sabato. The only president in the past 75 years who comes close is Dwight D. Eisenhower, who saw a similar decline for the GOP during his time in office.
“The Republican Party is arguably stronger now than they’ve ever been in 80 years, despite not having the White House,” said Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic operative and president of NDN [New Democrat Network], a liberal think tank.
Democrats also are concerned about whether the coalition Obama galvanized in 2008, and then reassembled in 2012, will turn out when he is no longer on the ballot. The current Democratic presidential primary contest has so far fractured that coalition, with young people flocking to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont while many voters of color — especially older ones — back former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Three points. First, Obama is an immensely polarizing figure for a hundred different reasons, many of which reflect his icy, superior–dare I say smug and condescending?–attitude. With exceptions, Obama has been a drag on the electoral prospects of many Democrats. It is no accident that Obama’s popularity numbers, which were in the tank for the longest time, have improved the closer we come to the end of his second term.
Second, who knows what will happen in November. Republicans have many problems of their own, of course, but because Obama made not the slightest effort to transfer his charisma (so to speak), the party is left with the stark choice of a Democratic Socialist and a woman who is simply deeply unpopular.
Third, let’s revisit the second half of one of Eilperin’s earliest paragraphs, “And 2016 represents one last opportunity for him to reverse that trend.” How is he doing that?
According to Eilperin
The first big tests of the rebuilding efforts come Tuesday in Pennsylvania, where Obama is taking the unusual step of wading into two contested Democratic primaries, endorsing Senate hopeful Katie McGinty and Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County official and early supporter of his who is hoping to become state attorney general.
Obama is “rebuilding” the party by butting into two primary fights.
There are other, more plausible examples of how Obama is “rebuilding the bench,” a reference to Democrats trying to regain some of those “913 state legislative seats” and”32 state legislative chambers” lost while he was President.
And, as noted above, there are areas and there are ways Obama can be helpful to Democrats.
But should Hillary Clinton be her party’s presidential nominee, the real question is whether essentially running for Obama’s third term turns out to be a net benefit for her or a costly debit.