The 2014 midterm has proven to be another major setback for the Democratic party. Both midterm elections during the Obama administration have been unmitigated disasters.
If the Democratic party can only win presidential elections every four years, but continually get swept during midterms, we are in trouble going forward. This pattern means that Democrats must bank enough officeholders every other election to overcome the inevitable midterm tsunami that intervenes. That pattern is untenable for taking or holding the house, tenuous at best for controlling the senate, and disastrous for Democratic control of state houses and governors mansions.
The main lesson we should take from the last two midterm election drubbings is that Democrats need to stop being so freaking scared of running as Democrats. The most egregious example of a Democrat running scared of being a Democrat was when Alison Grimes squirmed and refused to answer whether or not she voted for President Obama. Twice! It seems like after the 1st time she should have been prepared to just answered the question… which answer is: Of COURSE she did. She’s a freaking Democrat! It is just embarrassing that a candidate for the U.S. Senate thought they could not just say they had voted for President Obama. What are we supposed to believe? That she may have voted for John McCain or Mitt Romney?
That non response rolling train wreck must have hardly proved inspiring to those Kentuckian’s who had voted for President Obama, and Grimes needed to get every single one of those voters to cast a ballot if she had any shot of defeating McConnell.
This is the lesson that should be drummed into Democratic candidates going forward. You are a Democrat, not a less righty Republican! Own it, or lose.
Democrats (even Dems in red states) cannot win running as centrist Republicans. If the voters want to vote for Republicans, there are Republicans right there on the ballot they can vote for. It just comes across as disingenuous for the Democratic candidate to disavow or ignore issues that are crucial to our party.
For example (not to pick on any one candidate in particular BUT) in the race for Senate in Kentucky, the silence from the Democratic campaign on Obamacare was simply deafening! Kynect, the state exchange that is a direct result of the passage of Obamacare, is HUGELY popular in Kentucky… Kentucky’s Governor, Democrat Steve Beshear, is wildly popular and he is front and center whenever someone with a camera wants to discuss the pros and cons of Obamacare.
By contrast, whenever Grimes could not avoid questions on Obamacare she promised to “fix” the law, and talked about how if she had been in the Senate the final product would have looked different. Again, hardly the most ringing endorsement for a law that resulted in a very popular state exchange being set up in Kentucky, which just so happens to be the state she was running in.
What spells doom for Democrats in the midterms is the abysmal turnout of Democratic voters on election day. The 2014 midterm saw the lowest turnout of registered voters since WWII, with only 37% bothering to cast a ballot. That paltry turnout does not even consider that more than 70 million citizens that are eligible to vote are not even registered.
If Democratic candidates try to make the general public believe they are actually kinder gentler Republicans what incentive does the base have to come out to vote for the Democrat? Effectively, there is no Democratic candidate for Democrats to support in a lot of these races. There is just a choice between a hard right or a centrist Republican.
Democrats trying to pull votes from Republicans by demonstrating how conservative they are only serve to suppress the Democratic vote. It is a fool’s errand, and it is well past time for Democrats to learn this lesson: Run as a Democrat on issues that are important to our party or lose as the people you need to energize to vote stay at home.
Democratic candidates need to energize the base, not spend their time and effort appealing to the energized Republicans. As a rule of thumb a Republican voter that is supremely motivated to go to the polls in a midterm election is not doing so because they are enthused to vote for a Democrat, no matter how conservative the candidate pretends to be.
Until our candidates learn his lesson we can continue to expect the winning issues Democrats widely agree upon to continue to be ignored. There is a good reason that 80% of the American people agree on background checks for gun purchases at gun shows, but that cannot be passed through congress: 20% of the populace thinks those background checks are a horrible affront to liberty, and will result in the massacre of their family by Ebola diseased border hopping ISIS immigrants. Those 20% are dead enders who will vote 95% of the time. While the 80% of us who support sane gun safety measures can be counted on to vote (optimistically) 1/4 of the time. Half the population are presented with two candidates who run advertisements where they actually bust out the shooting irons and blast away at laws they do not like, while swearing fealty to the NRA, because the Democratic candidate is terrified of incurring the wrath of the NRA… as though the dead end 20%’s will EVER vote for a Democrat anyway, even if said Democrat can shoot straight.
On the national level the dead enders win this issue time and again, not because they are a majority of the population, but because they are the majority who are motivated to vote. Gun safety proponents win on the state level every now and then, like Colorado in 2013 and Washington in this midterm.
What happened in Colorado when they passed gun safety legislation through the state house. The gun lobby ran recall elections which successfully booted 2 state representatives from office. They were not turfed out because they had voted for an unpopular position, but because the turnout in the recall elections were a pittance (21% and 35%) of the voting population. Again, the dead ender 20%’s who will cast a vote if they have to run a gauntlet of rabid pit bulls in a blizzard dressed only in their speedo’s over rule the vast majority who could not be bothered to turn out during some strange one issue recall election that no one but your crazy uncle that listens to Rush really cares about.
President Obama has contributed to this and should not be excused by Democrats. His determination to leave immigration reform up to the house, and then punt on it when they refused to act in order to try to save red state Democratic senators was a complete blunder. Again, Obama tried to take a centrist approach and just wound up pissing away a significant chunk of the Democratic base.
Whites made up about 64% of the population nationwide as of the 2010 census. 75% of voters who turned out this election were white. 60% of whites voted Republican while only 38% of whites voted Democratic. Now consider that while Hispanics make up approximately 17% of the population only 8% of voters this year were Hispanic, down from 12% in 2012 and 10% in 2010. Democrats got 62% of the Hispanic vote in 2014.
Suffice to say that the president’s determination to delay executive action on immigration reform obviously failed to save Democratic control of the Senate.
That decision looks bad with 20/20 hindsight, but the outcome could be seen well before this election. What are the chances that someone who would vote against a Democrat following executive action on immigration reform would vote for the Democrat if no action were taken? The answer to the question is Minimal, with a capital M.
Also consider that the various Democratic positions on immigration reform are popular, including the most controversial from the right’s perspective. Exit polling reflects that 57% of voters this year thought illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered a path to citizenship, while only 39% thought they should be deported.
Once again, Democrats running scared from supporting the correct policy out of fear that Republicans would vote against them wound up losing. Of course Republicans are going to vote against Democrats! That isn’t going to change. What can change is how Democrats treat their own base. Not only can that change, but if Democrats want to compete in midterms going forward, it must change.
I’ll wrap up by noting that this diagnosis is hardly original, but I feel compelled to add this to the growing pile of opinion from the left calling for the Democratic party to start acting like Democrats, and stop trying to come across as Republican lite.