Maybe the fourth time is the charm — or at least the wake-up call. Ever since Barack Obama took office and turned the Democratic Party hard to the Left, they have lost ground in every single election cycle throughout the country. The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin calls this a “growing recognition,” but it’s coming at least three cycles late for Democrats. Suddenly, Democrats have awoken to a country that has marginalized them across the board, putting them on the cusp of a generational term in the wilderness.
This isn’t sudden at all, but the sowing of what Democrats have reaped for eight years:
The Democrats’ stunning defeat in the presidential race and continued struggles in lower-level contests have jolted party leaders into concluding that their emphasis on cultural issues has all but crippled them by diverting voters’ attention from the core Democratic message of economic fairness. …Over President Obama’s two terms, Democrats have embraced a down-the-line cultural liberalism that energized his coalition of millennials, minorities and college-educated whites. But the growing nationalization of politics and the Democrats’ drift to the left doomed a number of candidates running in more conservative states during the 2014 midterm elections, when turnout fell.Yet despite their near-extinction in much of the South and in parts of the Great Plains — two regions that had for decades elected Democrats to statewide office — the party had little in the way of a debate about Mr. Obama’s approach.Now, without rebuking the still-popular president directly, there is a growing recognition among many Democrats that Mr. Obama’s way may not be the best course in a country where many voters have experienced little income growth and where high-paying jobs can be scarce.
“May not be the best course”? That’s about as diplomatically put as humanly possible under the circumstances. Joe Scarborough reminded everyone on Twitter about Barack Obama’s real political legacy:
Democrats Under Barack Obama-11 seats in Senate
-60 seats in House
-900 state legislative seatsWorst since 1922.— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) November 13, 2016
Chris Cillizza emphasized this with Philip Bump’s graph from his recap of Democratic disasters:
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) November 13, 2016
Bump referred to this as the “Thelma and Louiseing” of Democrats. What it demonstrates is that Democrats began losing the country six years ago, and refused to accept it. Obama won re-election in 2012 with 1.3 million fewer votes, largely because of his superior ground operation and the emotional ties it created with voters, which produced only a modest rebound in other races for Democrats.
I covered those issues extensively in my book Going Red, and predicted that Hillary Clinton would not be able to replace either the organization or the emotional ties needed to produce a rebound. The final popular-vote numbers are not quite in, but it’s clear that made the difference. Obama got 65.56 million votes in 2012 (and got 66.88 million in 2008) to Mitt Romney’s 60.77 million. Four years later, Donald Trump has 60.37 million votes, slightly under Romney’s (for now), but Hillary only has 61.04 million votes — four million votes fewer than Obama. Assuming those numbers don’t change too much until all the counts have been completed, it will be clear that the voters who came out for Obama didn’t show up for Democrats without him — a stunning rejection of the party, and a clear indication that their loyalty was personal rather than political.
Obama leaves office as a personally popular president, but leaves behind the wreckage of the party that gave him entrée to the office. That was a slow-motion trainwreck, not a sudden overwhelming wave.