With less than three weeks to go till the midterm election, President Obama has made the inexplicable choice to undercut the claims of many of his Democratic compatriots that the GOP has been taken over by uncompromising extremists incapable of sensible governing. In an interview with Peter Baker of the New York Times, Obama predicts that Congressional Republicans will act more responsibly and be more open to compromise after November.
Obama expressed optimism to me that he could make common cause with Republicans after the midterm elections. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible,” he said, “either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”
This seems wrong on its face. If the GOP nets merely 36 seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate, I don’t see why Republicans would want to change tactics. They could even more easily obstruct governing and will make Democratic majorities look even more terrible for being even more unable to govern. If the GOP wins big after a session of being uncompromising, the obvious logic is don’t give up a winning strategy.
Further, regardless of whether this is true or if Obama truly believes it, this is definitely not the message Democrats in tight races want to hear from the de facto head of their party. One of the only good strategies Democrats have right now is depicting the Republican Party has having been completely taken over by crazy tea party-backed fringe candidates. It is a message that Dem candidates can articulate: “you might not like Democrats all that much right now, but the alternative is a party of extremists incapable of actually governing.”
Democrats have spent months trying to create this narrative by highlighting the outside-the-mainstream views of Republicans like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Rand Paul, and Carl Paladino. To have the President say he believes Republicans are going to become much more responsible and willing to reach sensible, bipartisan compromises after they win undercuts that message. It defuses a big Democratic argument about why voters shouldn’t support Republicans.
If Obama actually wants to help his party keep the majority, he needs to stop undercutting the strategy of many of the party’s more endangered candidates. The president needs to stop using the”blame Bush” messaging that Democratic pollsters have found actually hurts Democrats running for office.