Following the 2010 midterms, when Republicans made historic gains in the House of Representatives, President Obama admitted it was a “shellacking.” He also vowed to work with the new Republican majority, acknowledging that Americans don’t want them “to spend the next two years fighting the political battles of the last two years.”
Of course, neither the admission nor the promise seemed to stick very long. The four years following that election were marred by increasing levels of dysfunction, in no small part because President Obama was more brazenly political than ever, threatening to use “a pen and a phone” to pass his agenda, with or without Congress.
The results of that calculation were on full display this week as voters took to the polls to deliver yet another drubbing to President Obama and his party. But apparently the White House still hasn’t learned its lesson. The New York Times reports:
The electoral map was stacked against him, he argued, making Democrats underdogs from the start. And his own party kept him off the trail, meaning he never really got the chance to make his case. “You’re in the Final Four,” as one aide put it, “and you’re on the bench with a walking boot and you don’t get to play.”
The Republican capture of the Senate culminated a season of discontent for the president — and may yet open a period of even deeper frustration. Sagging in the polls and unwelcome in most competitive races across the country, Mr. Obama bristled as the last campaign that would influence his presidency played out while he sat largely on the sidelines. He privately complained that it should not be a judgment on him. “He doesn’t feel repudiated,” the aide said Tuesday night.
That’s an incredibly myopic view of the results. It’s not just that Republicans were competitive in red leaning states; the party won Senate seats in places like Colorado and Iowa by large margins, and was a hairs’ breadth from shocking the nation by winning in deep-blue New Hampshire. And it’s not as if President Obama was largely kept off the campaign trail because he was going to help his party, he was kept off because he was an enormous drag on any candidate he appeared with, even blue state candidates. Rebecca Kaplan reports for CBS News:
Steering clear of the many Democratic Senate candidates running in red states where the president was particularly unpopular, Mr. Obama stuck to only blue states where he was more likely to help rather than hurt.
Did the president ultimately hurt the nine candidates he campaigned with in the lead-up to Election Day? That’s hard to say. He certainly didn’t help much: Five of the nine candidates lost their races, and that number could rise to six if Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy does not eke out a last-minute win in his re-election race.
But reality doesn’t matter to this president. Indeed, on Wednesday Obama was even more defiant and begrudging than his aide indicated.
“I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district,” Obama said when asked about the “devastating night” Democrats suffered. “And they want me to work hard to close some of these divisions.”
And yet later in his answer he said that the “key is to find areas where the agenda that I’ve put forward…overlap somewhere with some of the ideas that Republicans have.” Even in areas where the parties disagree the president promised “to keep on arguing for [his ideas] “while saying he “probably won’t support theirs.”
It’s as if nothing has changed, as if the tremendous rebuke that voters sent Obama’s way never happened. Reporters quickly picked up on Obama’s message and repeatedly asked him what he was going to do differently. After a series of nonanswers he said that he already spends every day looking for things to change, “[a]nd I’m going to keep on asking that every single day.”
But the change voters wanted was a Congress that worked. They voted to end the gridlock that has marred Washington and stopped things from getting done. If President Obama wants to continue acting as if the midterms didn’t change anything, then he clearly isn’t listening.