Will Obama Become a Lame Duck?
The outcome of the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 4 — for all 435 House seats, 36 (of the 100) Senate seats, 36 (of the 50) governors, and 87 (of the 99) state chambers — will significantly impact the maneuverability of President Barack Obama domestically and internationally: either a “lame duck,” or a “bullish” transformational president. It will also impact U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, particularly the effectiveness of Obama’s pressure on Israel.
The U.S. midterm elections represent a unique political system that highlights the centrality of the constituent, the concept of limited government, the total independence of the legislature, and the codetermining and equal status of the three branches of government. Unlike the European and Israeli political systems, the U.S. executive branch is heavily constrained by the world’s most powerful legislature (Congress), especially during the second presidential term; even more so if the president’s party does not control both chambers of Congress. Historically, midterm elections do not bode well for the president and his party. Historically, the American constituent and Congress — on both sides of the aisle — have been systematic supporters of the Jewish state, frequently in defiance of U.S. presidents.
The thundering potential of the “sixth-year itch” elections was recently demonstrated in 1994 (the GOP revolution: 54 House and eight Senate seats), 2006 (a Democratic sweep: 31 House and five Senate seats) and 2010 (a Democratic crush: 63 House and six Senate seats). The core cause of these tidal waves was the plunge of presidential approval ratings, which nationalized the elections, triggering a ripple effect into House and Senate elections.
If there is a decisive outcome in this month’s midterm elections, it will be a direct result of Obama’s plummeting approval ratings, which have become the most critical issue of the upcoming elections. Obama has been transformed into an “anchor-chained” — and not a “coattail” — president, significantly undermining Democratic candidates. According to Time Magazine, “After President [George W.] Bush had similar poor approval ratings in 2006, Democrats enjoyed a wave election that gave them control of Congress.”
A perceived presidential responsibility for a Democratic defeat in the Senate races would further undermine Obama’s clout among Capitol Hill Democrats, who forced him to oppose Israel’s condemnation by U.N. Security Council resolution in 2011, and to release funds for the Iron Dome missile defense system during Israel’s recent war in Gaza.
The November 2014 elections are increasingly nationalized — in contrast to Tip O’Neil’s argument that “all politics is local” — as a vote on Obama’s record, potentially punishing Democratic candidates. The anti-Obama/Democrat mood is intensified by a general sense of pessimism and economic insecurity; criticism of Obama’s handling of the Ebola panic; the dissatisfaction over Obamacare; and the disapproval of Obama’s foreign and national security policies, including the war on terrorism and policy on Israel. In fact, the intensified threat of Islamic terrorism has enhanced the public and congressional identification with Israel, highlighting Israel’s unique contribution to America’s national security.
As a result of Obama’s sinking popularity, an increasing number of Democratic Senate candidates — playing defense in hostile territory — are distancing themselves from the president. For example, West Virginia’s Senate candidate Natalie Tennant’s commercial features her cutting off the electricity to the White House “to make sure President Obama gets the message.” In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan-Grimes disagrees with Obama on guns, coal and the EPA. Sen. Mark Pryor (Arkansas) criticizes Obama’s gun control policy and the handling of the Ebola crisis. Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) wants “to bang Obama over the head” with the oil issue. Sen. Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) missed Obama’s speech in New Orleans due to a prior commitment in Lake Charles. Sen. Mark Udall (Colorado) brags: “The last person the White House wants to see coming is me.” Sen. Kay Hagan (North Carolina) criticizes Obama’s policies on Syria, immigration and the environment.
The uphill battle facing the Senate Democratic candidates is highlighted by the seven senators who were elected in 2008 on Obama’s coattail and are currently running in states won by Romney in 2012, compared to one Republican running in a state won by Obama in 2012. Moreover, Democrats are defending a majority of the Senate seats which are on the ballot (21 out of 36), attempting to salvage the current Senate Democratic majority of 55-45 (House Republican majority is 233-199, with three vacancies).
The fate of many Democratic candidates — especially in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky — depends on the turnout of Afro-American voters, whose high expectations of Obama have not been met. Therefore, according to The New York Times, “The president is waging an under-the-radar campaign, targeting his loyal African-American base.”
Midterm elections tend to attract angry voters; hence the supposed edge for the anti-Obama Republican voters, who may be joined by disenchanted independents.
The Hill notes that “historically, young people, minorities and single women are more likely to skip midterm elections. … Core groups in the liberal base are more likely to stay home than are people in the demographic segments that lean Republican. … Voters are less engaged in this year’s midterms than they were in 2010 and 2006. … However, Democrats are continuing to try hard to get their base to turn out.”
Turning out the vote was a game-changer in the 2012 presidential election. It could make a dramatic difference in 2014. Therefore, it ain’t over ’till it’s over.
However, regardless of the outcome of these elections, and while the Republican-Democratic balance of power has been transient, the solid public and the bipartisan congressional support of the Jewish state has been unwavering.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.