Democrats: Beware the Ides of March
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.
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