Whilst Democrats get busy with trying to play down – or make excuses for – their crushing defeat at the polls Tuesday, the Republican Party faces the delightful dilemma of trying to decide who, in the Democratic machine, it benefits them more to blame. Midterm elections are, historically, a referendum on the incumbent President’s policies, even though the election itself is about the Congress. Barack Obama was willing to take ownership of that fact, much to the chagrin of a number of Democratic candidates who were trying to distance themselves from his policies.
Speaking on Al Sharpton’s radio show, prior to yesterday’s election, Barack Obama said “The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress…” Meanwhile, several Democrats running for re-election were busy avoiding questions over whether or not they voted with Obama on certain issues. This statement made it even easier for the Republican Party to now gleefully point out that yesterday’s election was a referendum on the President and his policies – and that the voting public soundly rejected those policies.
Despite the fact that the Republicans now control both houses of Congress, it would be unwise to label the President irrelevant, although he now fits the category of ‘lame duck President,’ he still has two years to serve. He also retains the power of veto and has shown, on several occasions, that he is not above trying to circumvent Congress altogether or to try ruling by executive order. That being said, Obama cannot run for another term in office: His days as President are numbered.
Whilst the Republican Party can enjoy two years of reminding everybody that these election results represented a rejection of Obama’s policies, eyes are already turning to the 2016 election and, particularly, to the presumed candidacy of one Hilary Rodham Clinton.
Herein lies the Republican Party’s wonderful dilemma; Hillary Clinton threw herself enthusiastically into this battle for control of Congress. She made a point of vigorously campaigning on behalf of select Democratic candidates. As Republican Senator Rand Paul has been eager to point out, most of those candidates lost their election fights. The Senator christened a new Twitter hashtag, #HILLARYSLOSERS, accompanied by black and white photographs of Clinton standing with a string of Democrats who went on to lose at the ballot box. Those candidates included prominent liberals in whom the party had put a lot of faith and confidence, not to mention a lot of money. Some of the unfortunate, Hillary-endorsed Democrats in question were Michelle Nunn, who was hoping to fill the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Georgia Republican, Saxby Chambliss; Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who lost her Senate Seat; Iowa’s Bruce Braley, who gave up his seat in the US House of Representatives to run for the Senate and was soundly defeated by Joni Ernst, a future star in the Republican Party; Alison Lundergan Grimes, who ran against Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
Speaking on CNN, Senator Paul – who is widely expected to run for the GOP presidential nomination – declared yesterday’s drubbing “a repudiation of Hillary Clinton.” He backed up that comment by pointing out that “90 percent of incumbents win, but over 50 percent of the candidates that she [Clinton] campaigned for – that were incumbents – lost.”
Senator Paul is likely thinking ahead to 2016 and the prospect of finding himself battling Clinton for the White House. Whilst it is easy, and completely justified, to tout the midterm results as a rejection of the President, Paul may have chosen to forego that delightful prospect and, instead, put the focus on Clinton’s failure to favorably influence the outcomes of several races in which she decided to insert herself. His #HILLARYSLOSERS gloating, however, is not simply designed to taunt the former First Lady over her inability to carry her chosen candidates to victory, but to suggest that those candidates lost because of her support, rather than despite it. His message is clear; Hillary Clinton is done as a political force. More than that, she is toxic and it was her very endorsement of these candidates that ensured their defeats.
It seemed as though the Republican Party was in crisis and – in many ways – it still is; the pressure is on for Republicans in Congress to take a hard-line against a renegade President, undo much of the damage and win the loyalty of their skeptical conservative supporters. For a short time, however, the party can revel in its victory and savor the delightful dilemma of whom to hold responsible for this midterm Democrat debacle; President Obama or Hillary Clinton – or both.
Opinion by Graham J Noble