Democrats’ midterm hopes are floundering following one of the worst six-month spans in political history. “Whoa there,” I can hear you saying through my computer screen. Sure, it isn’t exactly rainbows and unicorns in the White House, but isn’t it a little hyperbolic to call this “one of the worst” runs a president has ever seen?
I don’t think so. The Obama Administration has managed to check nearly every box on the “thing-not-to-do-in-the-run-up-to-a-midterm-election” test.
Scandal? Check. In fact, this White House has been forced to fend off allegations of multiple indignities. First, there was evidence that they doctored the Benghazi talking points to downplay Islamic extremism in the deaths of an American ambassador in Libya. Second, information was released showing that the IRS illegally targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny. And third, evidence was released that the Justice Department was suppressing investigative journalists at Fox News and the Associated Press by snooping through emails and phone records.
Foreign policy debacle? Check. The Obama Administration has gotten the Rooseveltian mantra “speak softly and carry a big stick” exactly backwards. At nearly every turn the White House has been running its mouth, laying down “red lines,” failing to rule out putting “boots on the ground,” and then promising that any strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” Not exactly helpful. This administration’s foreign policy is so askew that a blatant gaffe by the Secretary of State suddenly became accepted U.S. foreign policy. As a result, Russia, one of our top geopolitical foes, has thoroughly outplayed the U.S. and has now taken the lead in Middle Eastern diplomacy.
Economic troubles? Check. Gross domestic product has grown more slowly this year than last. The number of people without jobs has steadily increased. Of the few jobs that are being created, most are of the part-time variety. The share of working-age Americans who are even participating in the economy – either with a job or looking for one – is at its lowest level since 1978. The average length of unemployment is more than eight months, a figure that has risen in recent jobs reports. And consumer and small business optimism has either flatlined or is on the decline, which is indicative of a weak jobs market ahead.
Policy struggles? Check. Obamacare is without a doubt this White House’s signature policy achievement. And it was designed so that most of its most important provisions would take effect in 2014, a delay Obama hoped would provide enough time for all the kinks to work themselves out. But thus far Obamacare’s rollout has been an unmitigated disaster. In nearly every state individual health care premiums have soared because of Obamacare’s mandates, nearly every day a company announces changes to its hiring or benefits policy to reduce Obamacare-related costs, and numerous delays to key features of the law show it is simply not ready for prime time.
Given the numerous failures of the Obama Administration it should come as no surprise that Democrats’ midterm hopes are quickly dwindling. As revered political prognosticator Charlie Cook writes in a column titled “Why Democrats Have Reason to Fear,”
Stepping back, midterm elections are, more often than not, referenda on the White House occupant. While the president’s name is not on the ballot, voters usually register their approval or disapproval of the administration through their votes for Congress. Obama’s job-approval ratings are currently in the low- to mid-40s, roughly where George W. Bush’s were at this point in his second term (his later dropped as low as 31 percent). Obama’s disapproval ratings are running just above his approval ratings—never a good sign—but the president’s numbers are not yet radioactive.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll provides further evidence that Democrats need to be worried about their midterm hopes. The poll shows that voters are quickly warming to Republican ideas on a number of policy fronts. The GOP is now rated higher than Democrats on handling the economy, foreign policy, and reducing the federal deficit.
And while Democrats still hold the advantage in several important issues like health care and “looking out for the middle class,” their lead has greatly diminished in recent months. In fact, on those two issues, the Democrats lead are at their lowest point in decades.
Although the midterms are still more than a year away, things will need to turn around quickly for the Democrats to recapture the momentum. Anything can happen in the world of politics, but if the last six months are any indication, the Obama Administration is not up to the task.