Guess what. Voters don’t really hate “obstructionism.” They hate the other party.
If we’re to believe the media-authored account of the past six years, the GOP has made rigid obstructionism of Barack Obama’s policies its sole agendum. In victory and in concession speeches, candidates of both parties still claim that “dysfunction” has been the biggest problem in Washington.
Where exactly have Republicans suffered for their stubbornness? The reality is that Republicans have been generously rewarded for their tenacity in stopping post-Obamacare progressive policy. Since 2010, the Republicans have pulled together a historic string of victories — with scores of seats changing hands in the House. If anything, what we learned is that politicians are far likelier to be penalized by the electorate for passing unworkable and overreaching legislation than they are for stopping it.
That’s just one myth we function under in Washington.
Another talking point we heard a lot leading up to the midterm elections, most notably from Fox News Channel’s Juan Williams, revolved around the idea that we were experiencing some broad reaction to a broken Washington — a revolt against incumbency and politics in general.
Though it’s true that most voters tell pollsters they abhor the bickering in Washington, according to exit polls more than a third of those who voted for a Republican congressional candidate claimed to be dissatisfied or angry with GOP leaders in Congress. And a quarter of those who voted Democratic claimed they were dissatisfied with Obama. The reality is that only one party was punished. American voters didn’t oust incumbents; they ousted Democrats. If Sen. Pat Roberts, R- Kan., could come back to win his race against a candidate whose entire rationale for running was to end partisanship, this was about holding not all elites accountable but Democrats.
For months, we’ve been also hearing how Democratic losses could be chalked up to “structural” problems. The map was the problem! “In this election cycle, this is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower. There are a lot of states that are being contested where they just tend to tilt Republican,” Obama told a local radio station.
That was an arguable contention to start with, but it was certainly shattered by the results. Moreover, you can’t have it both ways. When the president wins, his victory is driven by issues. When Democrats lose, they are untethered from policy or party. That myth can be put to bed. In 2012, Obama won Colorado 51.49 percent to 46.13 percent. Today 55 percent of voters there have a negative view of the president. While liberal Sen. Mark Udall was beaten handily, a less liberal governor, John Hickenlooper, a man who was lucky enough never to have had to vote for Obamacare, squeaked it out. In Iowa in 2012, Obama won 51.99 percent to 46.18 percent, but Republican Joni Ernst won the Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Maryland, Illinois and Virginia were all Obama country in 2012 and all saw surprisingly competitive races or worse.
When you break it down, this may have been one of the least “structural” losses for any party in a long time.
Another myth we heard for weeks leading up to the elections was that Republicans had abandoned Obamacare as an issue. Turns out some of the biggest winners in the most competitive states — Cory Gardner in Colorado, Ernst in Iowa — were full-throated critics of the Affordable Care Act and never shied away. According to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, Obamacare ads dominated TV and radio. The GOP ran about 13,000 Obamacare ads in Senate races in one week leading up to Election Day. When was the last time a single piece of legislation dominated a midterm in that way? No doubt Democrats will continue to argue that historic Republican gains had nothing to do with the most discussed legislation in America. But it is far more plausible that Obamacare has fathered two colossal-wave elections by the GOP in a mere four years — which, by any measurement, makes it the least popular federal law in our lifetimes.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.”