Whilst there will be much debate about the true meaning of the Barack Obama Presidency, one thing that can’t be questioned is the decisive nature of the American voting electorate. Despite winning two resounding Presidential Elections in 2008 and 2012, President Obama has overseen some of the most emphatic losses in Midterm Electoral history. With the 2014 Midterms, Republicans netted 8 more seats in the Senate (to reclaim the majority for the first time since 2006), 12 seats in the House of Representatives (to take their majority to approximately 36; their largest majority since 1929), 3 governorships and countless state legislatures.
Despite it being a far worse outcome than the self-described shellacking of 2010, President Obama was surprisingly nonplussed in his post-election press conference, simply stating that, “Republicans had a good night.” One noteworthy aspect of his discussion with the media was his explicit mentioning of the two-thirds of Americans who didn’t vote in the various elections held on November 4th. The President suggested that these voters, along with those who resoundingly elected Republican candidates, were demanding that those in Washington do a better job of working for them.
Now that the Congress is controlled entirely by Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the political discourse is set for an awkward dance over the next two years in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential Election. While both McConnell and Boehner have spoken of seeking bipartisan agreements with the President, we can expect both Congressional Republicans and Obama to remain as combative as ever.
Much has been made of the President’s public mulling over changes to his immigration policy. The mooted Executive Order, which will allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation, is already and will continue to send shockwaves throughout Washington. Both McConnell and Boehner have indicated this will almost permanently poison the well for any productive bipartisanship through the 114th Congress whilst some incoming GOP Representatives have suggested this equates to an impeachable offence.
For some Presidents, a newfound status as a Lame Duck for the remaining two years in office would be cause of introspection; instead Obama has thrown caution to the wind. Along with his plans for immigration policy, he appointed the United States’ first African-American and Female Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, signed a monumental deal on climate change with Chinese President Xi Jinping, made statements on net neutrality that were music to the ears of liberals and oversaw a glitch-free rollout of the next round of enrolment in Obamacare. As John Cassidy explained in The New Yorker, it’s too early to write off Obama completely. Whilst his power may be diminished, he can still shape events on a significant scale, even if it continues to diminish his 2008 image as a bipartisan fixer for the nation.
More broadly though, these Midterms continue to reinforce the belief I’ve developed over time that the United States of America is a political power unsure of itself, at least amongst its people. We need only to look at some of the ballot measures that won popular support as Republicans swept Congress; legalisation of marijuana Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C, background checks on gun sales in Washington, and increased minimum wages in Nebraska and Arkansas.
Additionally, we need to consider the wildly skewed electorate voting in such Midterm elections. Without a Presidential candidate to motivate voter turnout, engagement by the citizenry is skewed to the older and whiter, the natural constituencies for Republican candidates. Whilst come Presidential cycles, the vast voting blocs of African-Americans, Latinos, single women and educated youth, will likely turnout to keep Democrats favoured in the Electoral College.
Put together, we will likely get a continuation of divided government, with Democrats favoured to hold the White House and Republicans likely to own the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives with gerrymandered electoral boundaries favouring Republicans. What’s more we will likely see more wave elections, were the electorate swings wildly in their preferences as they did from 2004 to 2006, 2008 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2014. With such stark swings in voter preference, and ever-entrenched positions by Republicans and Democrats, it’s likely the bitter dysfunction will continue long after Obama’s Presidency.
It has been a pleasure writing for The Melbourne Globalist. You can continue to follow my thoughts on US Politics via Twitter @CRJWeinberg.