Opinion

The Great Debate

Democrats: Beware the Ides of March

By Bill Schneider
March 14, 2014

For Democrats, the Ides of March came early this year.

On March 11, to be precise, in a special election in a swing congressional district in Florida. A mostly unknown Republican knocked off a much better known Democrat, just like Roman conspirators knocked off Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Caesar’s killers used a knife. The Republicans’ deadly weapon? Obamacare. Three-quarters of Republican TV spots mentioned Obamacare.

Democrats need to practice saying, “Just wait until next time.” Because while 2014 is looking worse and worse for Democrats, 2016 is looking better and better.

Midterm elections like 2014 are not about choosing a leader. They’re about sending a message.

And the message voters seem to want to send this year is, “Obamacare isn’t working.”  Total enrollment is lagging. More dangerously, enrollment of young people 18 to 34 is lagging behind enrollment of people over 55. Without enough young and healthy people in the risk pool, premiums will skyrocket. Insurance companies will announce new premiums for 2015 this fall — just before the election.

To prevent sticker shock, the Obama administration may offer subsidies to insurance companies. That would give Republicans a new complaint: another government bailout! It was public anger over government bailouts that first gave rise to the Tea Party back in 2009.

It’s looking more likely that Republicans will gain the six seats they need to take control of the Senate. A big reason is the terrain. Democrats have to defend 21 Senate seats this year and Republicans 15. Seven of the 21 Democratic Senate seats are in states carried by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Only one Republican seat is in an Obama state — Susan Collins in Maine.

The terrain for the 2014 Senate election was set six years ago, in 2008. That was the year Obama first got elected in the teeth of a financial crisis. Democrats gained eight Senate seats that year. Now Democrats are defending those gains in a political environment that’s far less friendly.

The terrain for the 2016 Senate election was set in 2010 — a Republican landslide year. In 2016, Republicans will be defending more than twice as many seats as Democrats — 24 Republican seats to 10 Democratic seats. Seven of those Republican seats are in Obama states. Democrats will be defending only one seat in a Romney state.

If Republicans take the Senate this year, the stakes will immediately rise for 2016. Winning the White House could give Republicans total control of government.

The problem is getting Republicans to rally around a single candidate. The Republicans’ problem was evident at this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The conservative movement didn’t muster its forces. It divided.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the leading figure among mainstream Republicans. “Let us resolve not only to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again,” Christie admonished the delegates.  But Christie’s once-soaring popularity is now water under the bridge.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz emerged as the hero of the Tea Party wing. Cruz’s answer to Christie? We’ve tried your strategy. It failed. “All of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney,” Cruz said. “They’re decent men but when you don’t draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio spoke for unreconstructed neo-conservatives when he offered this Bush-like assertion: “We need to make it unmistakably clear that we will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.” Like the war in Iraq?

Former Senator Rick Santorum, who won the 2012 Iowa caucuses, boldly defended the religious right to a strongly libertarian crowd. Santorum’s message? Winning is overrated. “We’re told that we have to put aside what we believe is in the best interest of the country so a Republican candidate can win,” Santorum said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not out here fighting just to elect Republican candidates and let them win. I’m here to see America win.”

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul spoke for the libertarians. “You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans,” Paul told the adoring crowd. “I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.” If Paul manages to win the GOP nomination in 2016, he will split the party wide open. The religious right is suspicious of his views on drug policy and gay rights, while Paul’s isolationist foreign policy views drive neo-cons crazy.

Bold prediction: If Paul is the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) will endorse Hillary Clinton.

The 2016 election will be very different from 2014. It will be fought on different terrain. And Democrats will be fired up by a new urgency in 2016 if Republicans take the Senate in November.

As it happens, the Jewish festival of Purim falls on the Ides of March this year. That’s when Jews celebrate the queen who saved the Jewish people from destruction. If Republicans win the Senate this year, Democrats will look to Clinton to be their Queen Esther.

PHOTOS: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) makes remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, March 6, 2014.REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who leads the pack of potential Democratic 2016 presidential contenders, waves before speaking to a group of supporters and students at the University of Miami in BankUnited Center, Coral Gables, Florida February 26, 2014. REUTERS/Gaston De Cardenas 

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Insightful and accurate article.

Posted by Randy549 | Report as abusive
 

The real message here is if you spend enough money demagoguing an issue, you can succeed at getting a majority of people to agree with you. If the same amount of money that was spent convincing Americans that the Affordable Care Act is bad was spent convincing Americans that education is bad, a majority of Americans would pull their kids out of school. Of course, if the same amount of money was spent convincing Americans that the ACA is good, a majority would believe it. Problem is, there is more money to be gained by the rich in getting rid of the ACA than there is by getting rid of it, just like there’s more money to be gained convincing Americans that there is no man-made global warming than there is convincing us that it’s real. We’ve turned capitalism into a Frankenstein monster and now it’s turning on us. Americans have become so intellectually weak that with enough money we can be convinced to believe anything, like having the most expensive, least efficient healthcare system in the world is good and shouldn’t be changed; nothing should be done to combat global climate change because the evidence is inconclusive; the more you cut taxes on the rich, the more jobs they’ll create; if a society has rampant gun ownership then that society will have less gun violence than a society with little gun ownership; Obama is a socialist Muslim and has falsified his birth certificate. This is how our once great nation dies.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive
 

I think Carnival hit the nail on the head – well done. It should be an action notice for Libs/progressives that ‘fear’ Republican rule: get YOUR message out. Spend some money, do the dirty ground work, get off your duffs, or quit whining. You know the terms of the game – now go out and win it. But that isn’t likely to happen because there isn’t really anything to rile up the Dem ‘forgotten’ base like there was for what became the TPers. This is a somewhat rectally derived stat, but I’d say as many as 2/3rds of Americans are liberal-minded and want progressive solutions, and they are complacent because they feel they are such a solid majority (ie they just don’t take Repubs seriously.) Those 1/3rd that make up TPers and hardcore Republicans are fighting for their lives and are convincing others to join them – even against their own beliefs – on how the country should go forward.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive
 

*Americans have become so intellectually weak that with enough money we can be convinced to believe anything*

Yes believe anything – like government can take care of us.

Or maybe even believe that one of the two political parties actually cares and isn’t just in it for money and power.

Posted by Overcast451 | Report as abusive
 

Excellent and thoughtful article.. But I don’t believe you’ll see as many electoral differences between 2014 and 2016 as you think..
I think you’ll find that in 2016 both parties will exhaustively ‘search for the middle’.. Because that is what most voters want.. a return to common sense and decency.
This far right and far left extreme uber-partisanship is destructive for America. Setting up ‘class warfare’ between Haves and Have Nots – is destructive for America. Bankrupting our government to support extreme wealth re-distribution is destructive for America.
Now is the time for a rational common sense discussion on the future of our Nation; I believe that this will be the underlying message of the 2016 campaigns – Voters will clearly say ‘we’ve had enough’!

Posted by willich6 | Report as abusive
 

This guy writes nothing but delusional articles. The democrats are in a tailspin of bad news from this administration’s long list of failures in domestic and foreign policy, investigations, coverups, and general incompetence and all he can say is: Wait until 2016 when we’ll have good news!

2014 may be the end of the era of divisive politics as a winning campaign strategy for the left and their constant rant about inequality, diversity, the 1%, unfairness, and lies. A good dose of realism can only benefit the nation before we slide into bankruptcy, foreign policy embarrassment and a malaise deeper than anything Jimmy Carter ever created.

Posted by EdRies | Report as abusive
 

The only national election in this country is that of the office of the President. Every other election is local. The national election can be dominated by one party in the metropolitan populations as in 2012, while the local and state elections can be dominated by the opposition.

It is realistic to have a conflicted government, as designed by the founding fathers–it offers a level of sanity where not single agenda can be driven. We are experiencing the results of a unified agenda, where one political party overwhelms the other, with ACA.

Hopefully, another generation of Americans has learned that a divided government is the best alternative. Now, if we can only get young people to understand that confusing platitudes and appearences with competence results in the economic and foreign policy failures we are currently enduring.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive
 

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