Dems to Obama: You broke our Party; now fix it — or else!

Sad Obama

American voters punished Barack Obama and the Democrats on Election Day 2014. POLITICO tells it like this:

Democrats are in worse shape than when President Barack Obama came into office — the number of seats they have in Congress, the number of governors, a party approval rating that’s fallen behind Republicans for the first time in recent history, enthusiasm, energy.

President Obama was swept into office two years after Democrats re-took the House and Senate, paving the way for one-party rule in Washingotn until Republicans took back the House in 2010. Democrats even had a majority of governorships after the 2008 elections; 28 to the Republican’s 22.

Democratic strategist James Carville even wrote a book about how Democrats would be the party in power for 40 years after Obama’s election.

But now, two midterm elections later, Republicans have a majority of governorships, a majority control of state legislatures (control in 68 state houses and senates, compared to the Democrats’ 30), and have the largest House majority in Congress in 60 years — not to mention control of the Senate for the first time since 2006.

Presieent Obama rode into the White House on the promise of “hope and change” — a post-partisan leader who has been anything but. And now, six years into his presidency, the American people have fully rejected his agenda — both in Washington and in a near-majority of the states.

And just as bad Republicans damage the Republican brand, as I discussed last week, bad Democrats also damage their own brand. Obama is a very large rat head in their Coke bottle, so to speak.

And Democrats are worried.


“[Obama] may or may not be the best messenger,” said Vic Fazio, the former California congressman who was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair for the 1994 rout. “But at this point, he is still our messenger. And the first year is very important.”

At least until the next presidential campaign begins in earnest, Democrats say, it’ll be up to Obama to centralize the Democratic message around something other than simply trying to paint the Republicans as extreme.

Interviews with leading party strategists turn to three main suggestions: Obama should be a much more frequent and strong voice on Democratic priorities, he should transform his West Wing political office from a midterm clearinghouse to an instrument for true party outreach, and he should reinvest his energy in the Democratic National Committee — including seeking a full-time chair who can begin the major clean-up and overhaul they need ahead of 2016.

And if doing it for the party isn’t enough for Obama, Democrats say, do it out of self-interest.

“A strong party is the key to a lasting legacy,” said a senior Democratic strategist. “Whether it’s for our ideals as Democrats or it’s for his personal legacy — if we lose the White House and continue to get gutted down ballot, they will repeal the ACA and everything else we’ve fought so hard for, and all of this will be for naught.”

Democrats saw substantive gains early in Obama’s term. Congress passed and Obama signed the Affordable Care Act; special forces eliminated Osama bin Laden; as Democrats would tell it, Obama’s approval of the “stimulus package” turned the economy around. For Democrats, the achievements (on paper) were numerous.

But the flip side of passage of Obamacare is that a clear majority of Americans oppose it and approval is hovering at just over one-third.

It’s highly unlikely Obama will achieve any substantive Democratic victories with Republicans in control of both Chambers in Congress. So what can he do to rebuild the Democratic Party brand?

Back to the POLITICO article:

Now, aides see two years of opportunities for a president who won’t be constrained anymore, who’ll be able to say what he wants without worrying about how it could scramble anyone else’s political considerations.

Great, Democrats say. Now make something of it. Talk about the economic progress that’s happened. Talk about how to achieve job growth to build on it.

“The best thing he can do is focus on income inequality, and talk about and propose things, and just be a fierce advocate for addressing the economic divide,” said another Democratic strategist with ties to the White House. “That will leave people after two years saying the Democratic Party really stands for something.”

“What Bush failed to do, and to some extent Bill Clinton failed to do, is to make the final two years of their presidency something big, and advocate for it and make it a defining characteristic of the party,” the strategist said. “You have to come something that defines who your party is — even if you don’t make law and you’re not successful in the effort.”

The fact of the matter is, Obama will likely be buoyed by the contrast between his Administration and Congress. For instance, any time Congress passes a bill and Obama vetoes it, it will probably seem as though (to the American public) that the Republicans in Congress are somewhow to blame. When Republicans took the House in 2010, they bore the brunt of the blame for “gridlock” in Washington, even though it was largely Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who refused to take up legsilation passed in the lower chamber.

There are big fights coming down the pike, and immigration is likely to be a top issue. The Republican Party is fractured on that issue, and Obama will likely be able to craft a compassionate narrative to counter the Republican disarray.

And though Democrats appear to be in the wilderness now, the Republican Party has historically been very capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

For Barack Obama and his party, there’s really nowhere to go but up at this point.

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