Will progressives energetically abandon President Barack Obama after the 2014 midterm elections?
Let's start with a couple of caveats. First, one year is an enormous amount of time, politically speaking. (We often forget this fact given the current state of political media coverage).
Second, using history as our guide, we can expect the Democrats to lose seats in both the House and Senate in next year's mid-term elections. (But as Rice University political scientist Justin Esarey told me: "I think it's hard to be more specific, or even to have strong confidence in that prediction, at the moment.")
With the foregoing in mind, let's engage in a bit of (responsible) political prognostication. What do we know right now? First, the rollout of Obamacare has been, as the administration, admits a "debacle." (But, again, it's only been a month; by spring of next year this could be simply a bad memory). Obama's approval ratings have fallen to a record (for him) low: 42 percent. The revelations about the size and scope of the NSA's spying program, at home and abroad, have led wits like Ezra Klein to joke that maybe the NSA should run Healthcare.gov.
So, say things hold firm historically, and the Democrats lose seats in the House and perhaps the Senate. (But let's stop here for a second because we're being responsible: the Tea Party has decided to run primary challengers to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexandar. On the other hand, the business wing of the Republican Party is angry at the Tea Party for damaging the Republican brand and they are striking back against the Tea Party. All of this might confound what history tells us. See why this stuff is so hard to predict? Being responsible is not as much fun. And while we're at it, we might as well point out that even experts, are terrible are predicting outcomes in low-information situations like this).
Let's posit that the 2014 mid-terms turn out badly for the Democrats. What is the likelihood that, a la 2006, progressives turn on Obama much like conservatives did with Bush? You might recall that 2006 was when we "learned" that Bush wasn't really a conservative all along, and he actually was a "squish."
Now as we know, the responsible answer to our question is "too early to tell, I don't know." But play along with me, let's say it does happen, the left turns on Obama, what will that look like?
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The easy answer: the mirror-image of what happened to Bush. Obama was never a progressive or even liberal. He never lived up to his promise. Just another politician. Nothing "changed." Actually, what would happen is an amplification of these criticisms, or these criticisms being adopted by more centrist Democrats. These accusations have actually been thrown at Obama early on in his presidency by progressives who, somewhat unfairly, have accused him of not accomplishing more as if he wasn't saddled with an intransigent opposition party in Congress -- the president is not a dictator, these people seem to forget. At all events, it is safe to say the backlash would be ugly, and it wouldn't be good for the Democratic Party, and might boost the chances of a Christie presidency.
There is a body of scholarship on presidents led by Yale's Stephen Skowronek that classifies presidents into four different categories. One such category is "reconstructive" and an example of a reconstructive president is Ronald Reagan -- one who sweeps away the old political regime. In 2008, there was much talk about Obama being a transformational or "reconstructive" president, at least among talking heads on the left. A scant five years later, you do not hear such talk. Indeed, if our 2014 "theory" plays out, the talk will be of a lame-duck presidency etc., etc.
But that's not the way history or "political time" works. Whatever happens in 2014 -- for good or ill, vis-a-vis Obama -- we won't know the true consequences and ramifications of his presidency for years to come. That might not be a sexy conclusion, but it's a responsible one.