State of America Series - America Today: Can the Democrats Recover?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Can the Democrats Recover?
by John Parisella

Hiding President Obama and making these mid-terms about local politics was supposed to curtail the predicted gains of the Republican Party. This was in all likelihood the Democratic strategy. It did not work and the GOP gains turned into a wave. While mid-terms are not presidential elections, the new electoral map may favor the possibility of a trifecta sweep for the GOP in 2016.

We can therefore expect a spirited race for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. And unlike the Democrats, who could acclaim Hillary Clinton as their nominee early in the primary season (if not before), the Republicans will dominate the news cycle once the Iowa caucuses meet in January 2016. This could favor the GOP if the party veers closer to the political center.

Is it over for Obama? Canada’s most respected daily, the Globe and Mail (November 6, 2014), issued an editorial entitled “Obama is still alive and living in Washington”.  Despite the convincing GOP victory on November 4, U.S. pundits on the Sunday shows have been careful to avoid concluding that the Obama presidency is over. Quite the opposite, spokespersons of both political parties recognize that political gridlock was likely uppermost in the mind when they voted. Talk of bipartisan immigration reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure rebuilding project was heard on various news shows in the course of the week, thereby keeping Obama potentially relevant in the political mix.

Granted, Obama spoke of executive action on immigration reform, and the GOP reiterated their customary mantra for repealing Obamacare. Yet, it was clear that both sides were eyeing 2016, knowing full well that the electoral map is different and turnout may actually double (about 1/3 voted in these midterms, and presidentials range from 50% to 60%) in a White House contest.

The Democrats, however, must do more than licking their wounds and repeating how difficult it was to run in an election year where the Presidential’ s approval numbers were in the low 40’s. The Republicans were clever to “nationalize" these mid-terms, and make Obama the issue. The Democrats lacked courage, and failed to defend the accomplishments of 6 years of White House control and 8 years of Senate control (since 2006). They failed to take credit or make the case for the economic upturn, and how their policies have much to do with lower unemployment (5.8%), significant debt reduction, healthy corporate balance sheets, greater financial stability (Dodds-Frank), record stock market numbers, as well as reducing the gap between high earners and the middle class through Obamacare and reducing the Bush tax cuts. These feats in a year where the economy was seen as the top issue should have been the discourse of all the Democratic candidates.

President Obama is not beyond reproach for this failed Democratic strategy. His style of governance often conveys a detachment and a lack of passion. While capable of great oratory, he has failed miserably in communicating and selling the policies that have worked. The last two years of his Administration may therefore have more to do with process and style, than with content. And for this reason, it is premature to count him out. 

It is said that the Electoral College and a national election generally favors the Democrats due to the nature of their coalition and higher voter turnout. While the House of Representatives seems out of reach for the Democrats in the foreseeable future, the Senate could once again come into play by 2016 if gridlock persists, and Obama gets marks for trying to end it.

If Hillary Clinton runs, she will undoubtedly be a formidable candidate. The Republicans will have to move more closely to the center to reduce the so-called Electoral College advantage of the Democrats. This is why the name of Jeb Bush is now surfacing and the example of Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich, who moved to the center and won a decisive re-election victory in his swing state, is worth noting. One thing is certain: If Democrats repeat their losing strategy of 2014 and run away from their policies and their record, last Tuesday’s results will just be a foretaste of what will happen in 2016.

John Parisella is a well-known business and political figure in Quebec, widely recognized in recent years for his astute and deep knowledge of American politics. Mr. Parisella has been at the centre of Quebec politics in his career as director-general of the Liberal Party of Quebec and Deputy Chief of Staff to the Premier of Quebec. He has been the President and CEO of one of Quebec's leading advertising firms, and in recent years Delegate General of Quebec in New York. He comments widely on American political affairs. 

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