Last Tuesday America rendered its verdict on the Obama presidency, and on Wednesday Barack Obama let the world know that he really didn’t care. The Democrats drowned in a Sea of Red, but that simply provoked the President’s detached defiance. His post-mortem that there is no red or blue America was tired and flat-out wrong. The reality is that America is divided along multiple fault lines, and that Obama has played on and profited from these fissures, even as he now pretends they don’t exist.
If the Democrats maintain this charade, 2016 will not be the cakewalk they dream it to be. Harping about a Republican war on women while wages stagnate and growth sputters is trivial and desperate. It cost Mark Udall his Senate seat in Colorado and, in Texas, Wendy Davis didn’t even come close, losing by over 900,000 votes in her failed bid to become governor. There’s no reason to believe that same message won’t trigger a similar backlash two years from now. Earth to Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC: dyspeptic dad still votes.
The Democrats have taken identity politics a step too far. Somehow, their message has gone from lunch-bucket concerns to a date with Girls. In the face of record low workforce participation, the Democrats have paid a high price for making the unholy trinity of Lena Dunham, Al Sharpton, and billionaire climate-change crusader Tom Steyer the face of their party.
According to the exit polls, 60 percent of white working-class voters went Republican, the same as in 2010, while a record 64 percent of white men did the same. Sometimes, jobs and paychecks come out ahead of self-actualization.
Still, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who were turned off by the Democrats slicing and dicing the electorate. Core Democratic constituencies also had enough of what the President was selling. In a marked reversal from past elections, a majority of Asian-Americans went Republican, as did a third of Latino voters. But it was more than simply ethnic blocs; it was also about deep blue states saying please don’t tell us that what you’ve put on our plates is chicken salad.
Reliably Democratic Maryland and Massachusetts elected Republicans as governors. In Illinois, the President’s home state, voters sent the Democratic incumbent governor packing, in the same spirit in which Illinois had previously tapped Mark Kirk, a Republican and a Navy Reservist, to fill Obama’s Senate seat. Meanwhile in the Empire State, New Yorkers put the GOP in control of the state senate, and also painted three blue congressional districts red. Even Vermont’s Democratic governor is going to have to have his neck saved by the state legislature. To be sure, the election was not an embrace of the GOP platform, but it was a wholesale rejection of Barack Obama.
Clearly, the Republicans learned something from 2010 and 2012. The GOP finally internalized that running statewide is not the same thing as running for Congress but with more money and a louder megaphone. Rather, it’s about speaking to a larger population with varied concerns, and that nuance mattered.
That lesson paid huge dividends for the GOP. Gone were the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Christine O’Donnell. In the Mississippi Senate primary, the GOP resisted the suicidal siren song of neo-Confederate Chris McDaniel, and backed incumbent Senator Thad Cochran. Normalcy and reality were keystones of the Republican agenda.
The Republicans also made huge strides in cutting their technology and get-out-the-vote deficit, beating the Democrats at their own game. In politics as in war, winning techniques do not stay secret for long. Normally Democratic Silicon Valley opened up its wallets to the Republicans this time out. As The Wall Street Journal reported, “In 2010 Democratic candidates for national office got 55% of contributions from tech-company political-action committees. This year Republicans have received 52%.”
Campaign finance records reflect that Google’s PAC donated $30,000 to each the Republican Senatorial Committee and to the National Republican Congressional Committee. And that’s no small thing.
Google’s Eric Schmidt had been an active ally in Obama’s tech wars, giving the Obama campaign aid and advice in the president’s reelection bid. Schmidt has even become business partners with Jim Messina, Obama’s former campaign head and deputy chief of staff, who has since signed on with Team Clinton. Apparently, tech world is no longer enthralled by the promise that was Obama.
Heading into 2016, the Democrats will start out with a real but not insurmountable advantage, with a hammerlock on the West Coast, New England, and New York. But beyond that, they too will have to fight for votes in places like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia – states they either lost or almost lost on Election Day.
To do it, the Democrats will need to win enough votes from the white working class. Without Obama on the ballot, minority turnout can be expected to decline from its 2008 and 2012 peaks. To make inroads with what once the Democrats’ base – Northern ethnics and Southern whites – FDR’s nominal heirs will have to talk about real jobs, growth, and energy, as well as relent on Keystone XL. Musing about green jobs will not be enough, and if the Democrats succumb to the whims of their donor base, Election night 2016 may be a repeat of 2014.
As was expected, the Clintons are already up and running. The day after the Democrats’ debacle, e-solicitations went out telling folks to get ready for Hillary. Yes, the game is on regardless of what anyone may say. But touting another avatar presidency may not be enough. The Democrats will have to pay homage to the forgotten man.