The Republicans clearly took the election, though it’s more likely the Democrats lost it than the GOP won it.
To compare their performance in office and their campaigns through an analogy to the recently ended baseball season, the Democrats played “small ball” and had lousy pitching, allowing the Republicans to blast the ball out of the park.
The Democratic strategy has been to try to make all gubernatorial and congressional elections into contests about locally important issues – small ball. Meanwhile, the GOP has made all of these races part of a national campaign about government itself, and it has scored with this strategy in the last three congressional elections.
The bad pitching results from the lack of a sense of strong leadership coming from the White House or the U.S. Senate, where the Democrats had a comfortable majority.
President Obama could claim credit for a new health insurance program that has already cut the ranks of the uninsured by about one-quarter. He could claim some responsibility for the economic recovery, taking place while Europe remains in recession and China’s growth lags.
He failed to do either, giving the Republicans an open opportunity to attack his signature health insurance program and his efforts to stimulate the economy.
President Theodore Roosevelt called the presidency a “bully pulpit” from which the nation’s leader could project strength and self-confidence in promoting his policies. “No drama Obama” has chosen to ignore the opportunity to project that kind of leadership.
The failure of the Democratic president to make a strong case for his policies nationally left the field wide open for the GOP to build its own case. Faced with his own party asking him to stay in Washington rather than campaigning in the field, Obama failed to use the White House platform to promote his policies.
While some critics may question the Republican use of uniform “talking points,” they seem to be effective. The clear Republican position against big government, tying it to Obama and repeating it continuously, filled a void left by the president.
For many voters, the lack of strong presidential leadership must have been seen as a major contributor to gridlock. All the Democrats could do was block the GOP agenda coming from the House of Representatives and leave it to Obama to assert debatable executive authority.
Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, did not help the cause. He, too, played small ball by blocking debate on GOP amendments that might have embarrassed the Democrats. That’s the major reason why the GOP resorted to the record-breaking use of the filibuster to block bills.
Reid also refused to make any compromises with Republicans when Obamacare was passed, giving them a clear shot to oppose it.
Aside from leadership on domestic issues, most Americans want a president who can project their country’s power in the world. Americans believe the United States has a mission to lead and set the example. But Obama’s style has left many people with a sense that the United States is losing its influence.
At the state level, the races for governor showed that GOP candidates gained benefit from adopting their party’s position on the size of government. The unified party message worked.
The largely unchallenged ideological strength of their position helped candidates for governor appear as self-confident instruments of change. Democrats seemed unable to do much more than promise business as usual and a greater role for government.
Look at Maine GOP Gov. Paul LePage. Despite being forecast only to be able to retain his core support and unable to add to it in his second campaign, he won a three-way race in which he almost gained an outright majority.
LePage came across as strong and outspoken, responding to the electorate’s desire for leadership. The Ebola controversy gave him an unexpected opportunity to use the governorship to speak to the public’s concerns. His use of television, paid and free, was generally good.
Do this year’s elections mean that change will sweep the country now that the Republicans dominate government? Will the president accept parts of their program?
The congressional GOP is held in low public esteem, so if it uses its House and Senate majorities to find areas of common ground with Obama, it could get credit for reducing gridlock. But it will be tempting for the Republicans to block Obama and try make the case for a GOP president in 2016.
The presidential campaign begins now.