President Obama on Monday handed Republicans a ready-made sound bite to use against endangered Democratic Senate candidates. Was this an avoidable gaffe?
Maybe, maybe not. Mr. Obama only said something most political pros already believe.
But first, the back story: Obama appeared yesterday on Al Sharpton’s radio show. His primary purpose was to try and increase turnout and political excitement among Mr. Sharpton’s audience, which is minority-oriented.
Obama said he understood the position of Democrats in red or swing states who don’t want him to show up for personal campaigning. That doesn’t hurt his feelings, said the president, because he understands how the world works and figures those folks are strong supporters anyway.
“The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me,” said Obama. “They have supported my agenda in Congress.”
That slapping sound you hear is Democratic campaign consultants from Louisiana to North Carolina hitting their own heads in frustration. This line is tailor-made for Republican campaign ads that aim to tie Democrats as tightly as possible to an unpopular president.
And the GOP is properly thankful for the gift.
“President Obama handed another useful sound bite to Republicans for the last few weeks of the campaign season,” writes Patrick Brennan in the right-leaning National Review.
As Mr. Brennan points out, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Several weeks ago, speaking at Northwestern University, Obama said that it was true his policies were on the ballot, “every single one of them."
Former White House political adviser David Axelrod said that comment was a mistake. He’d probably say that goes double for yesterday’s slip.
“While Obama’s previous comment suggested the election was indeed something of a referendum on him, these comments suggest not only that, but that Democratic candidates are actually on-board with him – something most of them have made pains to argue is not the case,” writes Aaron Blake at "The Fix" political blog of The Washington Post.
But will this actually make an electoral difference? We’d argue it won’t.
The vast majority of gaffes, slips, revelations, and other news bits counted as “game-changers” change nothing. For the most part, voters make up their minds due to fundamentals such as the general state of the nation, how they feel about the parties as a whole, and so forth. In that context, Obama’s unpopularity is baked in the cake. Republican candidates have been trying to connect Democratic foes with an unpopular president in lots of ads in every contested race in America, for months.
And as we noted yesterday, the GOP is already well-poised to take control of the Senate in November. Many of those swing and red state races are tipping to the Republicans. Louisiana, Kentucky, Alaska, Colorado, and Iowa all fall into this category. Only North Carolina is running against this trend, as incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has battled to a narrow poll lead.
And as we said up top, Obama was only telling the truth. In today’s polarized political Washington, party ID is a powerful predictor of how a lawmaker will vote.
“Almost all Democrats in Congress ... vote with their party the vast majority of the time,” writes Mr. Blake in The Fix.
And vice versa. Republicans vote with House Speaker John Boehner and minority leader Mitch McConnell – who stands a good chance of becoming majority leader Mitch McConnell in the next Congress.