The Disintegrating Obama Coalition–15.47jh.,b26.43
The political coalition he built in 2008 burst apart in spectacular fashion. His successor will not be Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, but Donald Trump, the man who accused him of being a foreigner.
No lame duck president has ever had to suffer such ignominy. If Obama were to quietly steal out of town on January 20, as John Adams and John Quincy Adams did upon their defeats, nobody could blame him. Even so, Obama’s coalition fell apart because he failed utterly to maintain it during his tenure.
For eight years, we have heard stories about Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant.” Single women, millennials, Latinos and Asians, gays and lesbians, and so on, drove Obama to a fantastic electoral victory in 2008 and would power the Democrats for a generation—or more—to come.
There had been warning signs from virtually the start of Obama’s tenure. He won a smashing victory in 2008 by sweeping the traditional swing states and adding new ones to the list—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. But voters in all these states signaled at some point over the last seven years that their loyalty was not unconditional. Starting with Bob McDonnell’s whopping victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2009, then Scott Brown’s surprise Senate triumph in Massachusetts, and finally to the Tea Party wave of 2010—it was evident by the halfway point of Obama’s first term that personal affection for him did not necessarily translate to support for his policies or other Democrats. Then came 2012, in which the president was reelected with 3.6 million fewer votes than he received four years prior. The admonition was repeated in 2014, when the Republican wave that hit the House of Representatives in 2010 wiped the Democrats out of their Senate majority.
Obama’s response to these electoral setbacks was to pretend they did not happen. Again and again, he stubbornly refused to change course. When he lost his filibuster-proof Senate majority in 2010, he passed an unfinished version of Obamacare through the budget reconciliation process. When he and House speaker John Boehner were on the cusp of striking a grand bargain on taxes and entitlements in the summer of 2011, he insisted on additional tax hikes at the last minute, skunking the deal. When he won a narrow victory in 2012, he called for extensive gun control legislation, framing the debate in Manichean terms that alienated those Midwestern voters who had the gall to support him and the NRA simultaneously. When the Democrats lost the Senate in 2014, he enacted immigration reform through executive fiat and brokered a highly unpopular deal with Iran.
Last but not least, he handed off leadership of his party to Hillary Clinton. Weighed down by personal and professional issues, she was his opposite in almost every way. During the Democratic primary battle of 2008, she had been a useful foil for Obama, illustrating his point that it was time for a new approach to governance. Now, she was the heir apparent—as if his voters would not care either way. Turns out they did.
Much of the blame for last week’s defeat obviously belongs to Clinton, who was a terrible candidate. But one cannot overlook Obama’s responsibility in this epic debacle. He blessed Clinton’s candidacy early in the cycle, despite the fact that she was under investigation by the FBI. And for years prior, he had acted as though he could do as he wished and retain the loyalty of his voters.
He was wrong. Clinton dramatically underperformed with the white working-class in the Midwest. She did not receive sufficient margins from African Americans in the Rust Belt or the South. And though she had the noxious Trump as her opponent, she failed to make up for these setbacks with swing voters in places like suburban Charlotte or Philadelphia. Nor did she make many inroads with traditional GOP constituencies in Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, who had been turned off by the bombastic Republican in the primaries. Even the Latino vote disappointed,
source–weekly standard, jay cost,