America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says it’s time for a new direction: The party picked up at least seven Senate seats, which means Republicans now have the majority. The GOP also added at least eight seats in the House giving Republicans control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 200. On Friday, all four Congressional leaders will meet with the President Barack Obama. Please join us to talk about what voters want and the Congressional agenda.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republican candidates claim victory in a number of key Congressional races in yesterday's midterm elections. For the first time since 2006, the GOP will have control of both the House and the Senate. Joining me to talk about what yesterday's Republican victories mean for President Obama and the political agenda ahead, Ron Elving of NPR, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, and Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMI'll invite your calls, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you after what I'm sure was a long night for you.
MR. RON ELVINGYes, indeed. Good to see you.
MR. DOYLE MCMANUSHey, Diane.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONYes, very late night.
REHMNia, what's the big message of yesterday?
HENDERSONWow. I mean, in terms of Democrats, I think they win in knowing that they had the, you know, had the odds against them. Because they were playing in these red states. But my goodness, the scope of the victory for Republicans, most surprising in a state like Maryland, where Republicans were able to turn a pretty solidly blue state red and win in the last minute. In a campaign, remember, where Obama was president. Obama campaigned there for Anthony Brown, as did Michelle Obama, as did Bill Clinton.
HENDERSONSo this was a real repudiation of Democrats. Now, we have to see if Obama, in fact, takes it that way. If he takes it as a repudiation. There are some polls leading up to this election that show that voters wanted change. And this is what they voted for. They voted for Republicans. Let's let Republicans do something. What that something is we'll still have to figure out.
REHMWhat do you think is the big message, Ron?
ELVINGSometimes it is as bad as it looks. And sometimes the polls are not wrong. If you followed the polls in the last days of this campaign, they were all pretty much moving in the same direction. And although they kept telling us it was too close to call -- and, in fact, in many of these races it was too close to call. In the end all the close ones, more or less, went the same way. And that is the harbinger that is rather the trademark of a big wave election. The close ones all go the same way and, in this particular case, that was against the Democrats.
ELVINGIt was a combination of six-year midterm -- any midterm can be bad. Six-year midterms tend to be particularly bad -- with an awful issue mix, a really bad issue mix for the Democrats in the final weeks of the campaign -- and some serious weaknesses on the part of the Democrats' candidates, none of whom really were strong enough to run away from a president who is at 40 percent popularity and considerably lower than that in many of the states where we had these tests.
MCMANUSAnd it's going to be very tempting for President Obama and Democrats to say, well, this wasn't really a referendum on the Obama presidency. The map was bad. We had some lousy candidates, as Ron said. We caught some bad breaks. But here's the problem, when Americans are grouchy, as Americans surely are grouchy, the wrong track number, the great classic poll question, "Do you think the country's on the right track or the wrong track?" Wrong track was 65 percent among voters yesterday.
MCMANUSThat's higher, that's more than was the wrong track number in 2010. So voters are really unhappy about the way things have been going in Washington. Do they blame both sides? Yes. But Americans look at Washington and they look at the White House and that's the party and that's the person they think is in charge.
REHMWhere were the issues? What were the issues?
MCMANUSWell, here's the other problem on that referendum question, "Was this a referendum on President Obama?" Yes. The Republican campaign can absolutely be faulted by simply campaigning against President Obama. We're not Barack Obama, they said. If you don't -- if you're not happy about Barack Obama, vote for us. The Republicans can certainly be faulted for not saying here's our 10-part plan that we'll enact if we get into office. But, you know, what? They campaigned against Barack Obama and the voters came out against Barack Obama.
ELVINGSometimes you can beat something with nothing. Sometimes you can beat an unpopular incumbent and particularly an absolutely negative mood. This was an electorate in which people were disgruntled, at the minimum. And in some cases, outraged. And in many cases, feeling insecure. A throwback to the 2002/2004 mood of the country, which was that somehow somebody needed to step up and protect people from things like ISIS and Ebola.
ELVINGAs remote as those threats might seem, they were clearly affecting the voter's attitude. And also somebody who would champion their feeling that whatever improvements there may have been in the economy, well, the voters just didn't seem to feel that they were experiencing them.
REHMSo almost every Republican candidate called on the failure of President Obama and you had virtually all Democrats distancing themselves from him.
HENDERSONThat's right. I mean, most famously Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, who asked who she voted for this last go around, wouldn't even say that she voted for Obama. Folks like Mary Landrieu, folks like Jeanne Shaheen did not want Obama in New Hampshire. Jeanne Shaheen of course won that race in New Hampshire, the one bright spot for Democrats.
HENDERSONAlso, they very much were trying to walk a real tightrope there between distancing themselves from Obama, but also knowing that among base voters, particularly African Americans, particularly Latinos -- even though that support has somewhat softened -- that that sort of Obama factor could be real and could be an energizer for those base voters. Now, it ended up turning out that African Americans in these southern states pretty much showed up in the ways that you would expect in pretty good fashion, but it just wasn't enough to offset the declining Democrat brand among southern whites.
REHMSo what was the overall turnout? Was it low, was it less than low, was it medium? What was it?
ELVINGIt varies from state to state, but my overall impression was that it was typical for a midterm election. You don't see as many people turn out in a midterm election as in a presidential election. A great number of people feel, almost with a shrug of their shoulders, I just voted. What do you mean I have to vote again? Is the president on the ballot? No. And so in many midterms typically you see in turnout fall by double digits. 20 percentage points not unusual. And generally speaking that is the American electorate.
ELVINGThe people who are more committed, that is to say the older, more affluent, more educated people, more enfranchised people who tend to be older, whiter, male and that group of people tend to be more Republican. And we have seen in midterm elections with some exceptions -- 2006 was an exception -- but apart from that, in the midterm elections going back over the last generation, we've seen a more conservative group of people come out to vote in midterms quite strikingly.
MCMANUSBut here's who didn't turn out, and that's young voters.
MCMANUSVoters under the age of 30. I mean, Nia's absolutely right, that in the South, in places like North Carolina and Georgia, Democratic candidates found a way to energize African American voters and get them out in pretty healthy numbers. So that wasn't the problem. But two groups, young voters absolutely stayed home. They did not hear anything to get them off the couch and out to the voting booth. And then the second -- and we're still getting the numbers on this -- is Hispanics. In 2012 enormous Hispanic vote in favor of President Obama.
MCMANUSWe -- I think there's a significant drop off. But also a Hispanic Republican vote. A, you know, still lopsided in favor of Democrats, but not one-sided the way it was, presumably because of disappointment over the president's indecision on immigration.
REHMNow, let me ask you about the most surprising races in the country. For example, Maryland.
ELVINGYes. Talk about a high-water mark for Republicans. They took away the governorship in Maryland after eight years of Martin O'Malley. And this is now the second Republican elected governor we've seen since Spiro Agnew, who most people don't even remember. I mean, that is a footnote. And Larry Hogan ran a campaign I think a lot of people will say was Reagan-esqe.
ELVINGHe was for lower taxes, less regulation, more business growth and really he managed to, you know, convey a conservative attitude on social issues without actually taking any positions on social attitudes or social issues that would hurt him with Maryland voters. That was the Reagan formula and it worked very well for Larry Hogan.
HENDERSONYeah, and he had some very fantastic memorable ads. Right? There was one where it was about taxes and taxing everything from your flip flops to toothpaste. And it was very, very catchy. He also had ads featuring African Americans, saying that they were switching from voting Democratic to voting for the Republican. And if you look -- and I think we're still going to get some numbers in from this race. But apparently they weren't able to swell turnout in some of these black areas, like Baltimore and P.G. County.
HENDERSONAgain, they seemed to try to do that with bringing Barack Obama in, with bringing Michelle Obama in, but in the end it just wasn't enough. It was about those local issues and about those pocketbook issues and taxes, which went up.
REHMAnd what about the governorship in Virginia, Doyle?
MCMANUSIn Virginia? What did happen in the governorship in Virginia?
MCMANUSNo, but I'm sorry…
HENDERSONThe Senate, in the Senate race.
REHMSorry, it's the Senate.
MCMANUSThat's where Mark Warner, who was pretty much thought to be a lead pipe cinch in his race against Ed Gillespie, ended up just squeaking through. And that was one of the big surprises. It's kind of a wonky thing to talk about because the incumbent Democrat Warner still won that seat, but that wasn't supposed to be close at all. So there you get another indicator that the underlying current was so strongly against -- not just incumbents -- actually this wasn't so much an anti-incumbent election, because an awful lot of Republican incumbents kept their seats.
MCMANUSI can't think of a single Republican incumbent who lost this time.
ELVINGNot, in the Senate.
MCMANUSEven Pat Roberts, for example, in Kansas, who was probably the most endangered held on pretty easily. This was an anti-Democratic wave.
ELVINGYes. You know, mention the governorship in Virginia. And a year ago -- just a year ago Terry McAuliffe just barely won on a huge surge of votes in northern Virginia at the last minute. And in the end, Warner did, too, apparently. Although, there'll probably be a recount there.
ELVINGBut, you know, he needed a lot more than anybody expected because there had been a great showing for Republicans in the south side of Virginia and many of the Republican parts of Virginia. They were eager to get out and cast a vote against Barack Obama. And there wasn't a corresponding urge to get out to vote on part of Democrats.
REHMRon Elving, Doyle McManus, Nia-Malika Henderson, they're all here to answer your questions about yesterday's elections. When we come back we'll talk about Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here is our first email from Michael. "It should also be pointed out that the Clintons made a dozen appearances in Kentucky for Grimes, but she lost by 15 points. This," says Michael, "is also a repudiation of the Clintons." Is it, Nia?
HENDERSONWell, you know, given what happened, this Republican wave, it's hard to see appearance by Hillary Clinton or any real surrogate making any difference. I think in Kentucky that was always going to be a tough, tough race for Alison Lundergan Grimes. It looked like there was, you know, a narrowing of that race down the stretch. But, you know, there's just no Obama coalition in Kentucky. There are not enough African Americans there, not enough Latinos there, barely any Latinos in Kentucky. And if she's not doing well with the white vote, she's not going to win that race.
HENDERSONI think she was polling at something like in the mid 30s and you've got to break 40, get in the mid -- you know, mid 40s because the African American vote there is only 6 percent. So hard to see the Clintons actually helping in the end.
REHMAnd here's another email, this one from Jeff in Indianapolis which could point to the other thought about the Clintons. He says, "I wonder if there'll be a strong silver lining in last night's results. This could be a put-up or shut-up moment for Republicans. It's easy to criticize without being specific in what you would do if you had the power." Now they have the power and do they leave an opening for Hillary Clinton if they do not put up, Ron?
ELVINGWell, the Clintons have a long memory and they surely remember what happened after the 1994 wipeout midterm election that Bill Clinton suffered. And actually many people think it was the best thing that could've happened to Bill Clinton. If it hadn't happened, he probably would not have gotten re-elected in 1996. But because the Republicans took the House and the Senate and all the attention away from him for the next two years, he had a marvelous opportunity to bounce back as a foil to Newt Gingrich and unpopular things that the Republicans did.
ELVINGNow I'll make a bold prediction about Clinton. She will not win the State of Kentucky.
ELVINGBut they got out of that what they needed to get out of it, there and in many other states. They showed themselves the Clintons as still the shadow government of the Democratic Party, the heirs apparent to the power. And the Hillary Clinton effect, I think, out of all of this has got to be positive.
MCMANUSBut that listener's question is absolutely at the core of the next great act in American politics. Because Republicans -- let's look at the other side. Republicans haven't been given quite a clear mandate on what to do because that wasn't what their campaign was about, but they have been given an opportunity. And Mitch McConnell and others on what we would -- what I would call the pragmatic side of that Republican coalition have said, we have two years to prove that we can govern better than the Democrats, and that will help us not only keep control of congress but that will help our chances of putting a Republican in the White House in 2016.
MCMANUSAnd on the flipside of that, President Obama now has to figure out how is he going to deal with this situation? Is he going to do, as Ron says, what President Clinton did after his drubbing in 1994 and tacked toward the center quite radically? And let's remember when President Clinton did it, Democrat liberals and progressives were furious at him. Is Barack Obama going to do that? I'm not sure.
REHMTell me about Mary Landrieu, Nia.
HENDERSONWell, you know, Mary Landrieu's got a tough fight on her hands. She's going to -- she got into a runoff. I think she won by about 1 percentage point in that race. It was a three-person race. She -- her chances of coming out of that race on top very, very, very small because much of that vote for that other Republican is going to go to Bill Cassidy.
HENDERSONOne of the things that Republicans were able to do so successfully this time was to recruit folks from the House and have them run in these races. That happened in Louisiana. It also happened in Colorado. Very tough to see her eking that out. There's not going to be a lot of attention in that race. She doesn't have much of a basic support among sort of the donor class, you know, this environmental class of progressives, the folks who are concerned about women's issues. So not a lot of money or attention is going to flow to that race. So it looks like that's going to be a lost cause, I'd imagine, for Landrieu.
ELVINGIt will be very difficult for Mary Landrieu to bring her vote back out in December. And at the same time Rob Maness' vote, which was the third candidate in this basically primary system that they have in Louisiana, his vote is not going to go to Mary Landrieu. There's just absolutely no way that happens. So it's hard to see where she gets the votes to even stay in the race against Bill Cassidy at this point.
REHMAnd Doyle, you're dying to talk about Alaska.
MCMANUSYou know, there is one race that is still undecided out there. Let's not forget Alaska. The Republican candidate for the Senate, Dan Sullivan, is in the lead over the embattled Democratic incumbent Mark Begich. It's about 49 to 45 by percentage but let's look at the raw numbers because Alaska is so small. What that translates to is 110,000 votes to 102,000 votes. That's smaller than most mayoral elections in American cities, an 8,000-vote margin.
MCMANUSWell, guess what? There are about -- at least 24,000 absentee and early ballots that haven't been counted yet. Once those are counted -- that's 20 percent of the electorate hasn't been counted yet. And then there are some remote villages way the heck up in the Arctic and out on the Bering Sea that you really can see Russia from. And it's not true that those ballots are coming back by dogsled, but they are coming back in small aircraft. It's going to take a week or two to know how that came out. So Mark Begich hasn't conceded yet and, you know what? He's right not to concede. We don't know the answer.
REHMLet's talk about Joni Ernst and the impact she's likely to make in Washington.
HENDERSONShe's going to be a star at least symbolically. She is young. She's got a military background. She campaigned as a mom and a soldier and a pig castrator. Her campaign was really about her personality. And her speech last night also -- she really talked about growing up and sort of growing up as a working class kid and getting on the bus with other kids who were working class too.
HENDERSONAnd that, I think, really is about what the Republican brand might become come 2016. How do they get these working class voters engaged in their party, working class white voters, possibly working class black voters and Hispanic voters as well. And she's got a pretty good template for that, at least in terms of her personal story. She's not going to be, you know, sort of the leader on any committees because she's going to be so junior, but expect her to be out there and be out there in a big way.
ELVINGYou know, Joni Ernst's coming to the Senate also illustrates another basic dynamic to what happened yesterday. There were five Democratic incumbents, all of whom would've been favored for re-election and probably would have scared off candidates like Joni Ernst. Tom Harkin was the candidate in Iowa, a guy who'd been there for 30 years. We had Jay Rockefeller, 30 years in West Virginia. Same thing pretty much in Montana, South Dakota, Michigan. Four out of those five seats wound up going Republican.
ELVINGIf you take away those four seats, we're sitting here this morning going, gee, who's in control of the Senate? It might be the Democrats. Those incumbents, by not running, took away not just the Democrats' best chance to win but also showed a tremendous vulnerability and opportunity to the Republicans who were then able to recruit their absolute number one candidate, their best candidate who probably would not have even run against that established Democrat.
MCMANUSAnd one other factor that that Iowa race brings up, in the last two Senate cycles before this one, Republicans had always had a couple of whacky candidates who managed to lose a race that they should have won. Todd Akin in Missouri was the most famous but there was O'Connell in Delaware who wasn't a witch and there were any number...
MCMANUS...of others who blew the opportunities in front of them. This time it wasn't -- it was the Democrats who had candidates who -- it wasn't that they were whacky but they were untested, they made stumbles. You can look at Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. She made a couple of stumbles. But in Iowa it was Bruce Braley who started his campaign by saying, you know, Chuck Grassley is just a farmer and I'm not a farmer. I'm a lawyer. Well, you know what? Running in Iowa, boasting about the fact that you're a lawyer and not a farmer really doesn't seem like good politics even to a city boy like me.
ELVINGHe never recovered from that, he really didn't. He never recovered from that one particular gaff. He had to do things all through the campaign to try to counteract it with farmers, with agricultural people. And plus it just gave him a gaffers image right from the very beginning. And Joni Ernst was able to really nicely capitalize on all of those things. And I agree, she's going to be somebody to reckon with here in the Senate. I don't know if she'll really be the face of the class of 2014. I think that's going to be Cory Gardner from Colorado but she will surely be part of it.
HENDERSONWell, but they're going to need women out there too, right. And she fits nicely into that. I think one of the things Republicans also did, we talk about this discipline, they train these candidates and they handpick them. You know, we got some reporting in our paper today that shows, you know, they sort of send out fake trackers to give tests to these folks to see how they would react with a camera on them. So they really learned from these prior lessons of these candidates who just went off message. And they were very, very disciplined.
HENDERSONAnd I think Republicans also learned from Democrats about the ground game and the important of the ground game. And a lot of this sort of special interest money, some of that was spent particularly in Florida on developing the get out the vote and the ground game.
REHMAnd you also had inheritors, you thought, for example in Georgia, Miss Nunn in Colorado, Mr. Udall.
ELVINGThat's right. And Mark Udall had already won a Senate term in his own right and seemed to be a pretty strong candidate. I don't think he is an instance of a Democrat blowing it. I think that was a case of an extraordinarily strong Republican candidate. They recruited him from the House. And from the day that Cory Gardner got into this race, people were saying all over the country, hey, that's one to watch. He's somebody who could win that in a midterm election with the midterm king of electorate in Colorado. He could mobilize the conservatives in Colorado without losing the moderates. And he moderated his own positions on women's issues hugely.
HENDERSONYeah, he did.
ELVINGIt'll be interesting to see what he does going forward. But that was the kind of candidate recruitment that really made a difference. And so Mark Udall got caught in that more than he got caught in his own errors.
MCMANUSBut that last factor that Cory Gardner moderated his social views because he had been in favor of a personhood amendment. He had been, in his earlier career, a down-the-line social conservative. Well, he walked away from that remarkably gracefully. Mark Udall...
HENDERSON...and quickly, yeah.
MCMANUS...desperately tried to wrap it around his neck to the degree, as we all know, that he got known dubbed by the Denver Post Senator Uterus instead of Senator Udall. And he ended up looking like a one-issue candidate, which didn't do him much good. But there's a larger factor there. Republicans avoided the trap of making this look like a Tea Party social conservative wave. If anything, it was more like an establishment wave.
MCMANUSNow Joni Ernst in Iowa is Tea Party. She'll probably end up in the Ted Cruz caucus. She wants to abolish the Department of Education and the EPA but she's the outlier. Most of the rest of them are pretty reassuring figures.
HENDERSONIt'll be interesting to see if Joni Ernst -- because that wasn't really the focus of her race. And you saw, like Gardner, she sort of smoothed off the rough edges of some of her more Tea Party leanings in the House -- or in the Senate. Will become essentially an establishment figure?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to ask you about Ted Cruz because he may not be totally in line with Senator Mitch McConnell.
REHMSo how does that play itself out, Doyle?
MCMANUSI think that's going to be fascinating over the next few months, absolutely. They already had a big dustup just two weeks ago when Mitch McConnell in an interview said, well, you know, people are talking about repealing Obamacare but we can't really repeal Obamacare if we don't have 60 votes. And Ted Cruz and the Republican right rose up in anger and said, what the heck are you talking about? And within 24 hours Mitch McConnell's staff had to take it back and say, no, no, he'll try and do it through the budget process with less than 60 votes.
MCMANUSOh yeah, there's a Republican civil war that isn't over yet but I'm going to go out on a limb and say, yes, we're going to see some skirmishes and some battles. But the Ted Cruz caucus isn't a whole lot bigger as a result of this election. And the Mitch McConnell caucus is.
ELVINGThat's right. That's right. This was a Mitch McConnell style Republican win. It was something that was designed to get votes from people who were not dyed in the wool full time conservative activists. And that is what 2016 represents is a challenge to the Republican Party.
ELVINGBut at the same time, you have a Republican nomination open, wide open for grabs. You've got ten different candidates polling between 5 percent and 12 percent in the first four states that hold primaries in caucuses, ten, and no one over twelve. That is an absolute recipe for not only competition and chaos but also for some really charismatic personality who appeals to the hardest core of the party, to break out and be a serious challenge to a Jeb Bush or a perhaps retooled Mitt Romney or somebody else who runs, Paul Ryan who tries to run as more of a moderate.
ELVINGAnd that guy, if you're looking for somebody who fulfills all the characteristics, it's Ted Cruz. And he's got a perfect platform to do it by running against Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
HENDERSONYeah, yeah, he's sort of a TV evangelical. One of the things he did before the election was he spoke to this group of evangelicals who have concerns about some goings on in Texas. So there he was speaking to all of these evangelicals. So he very much, I think, because he's so charismatic he almost comes across as a television preacher. When he's on stage he's going to be fantastic in those debates. So look for him to be a real noise-maker. He might have some competition maybe from somebody like Ben Carson who seems like he might run as well. But it is going to be a jungle primary. And it feels like Ted Cruz has got a lock on a very dyed in the wool deep red segment of the Republican Party.
MCMANUSI think that's absolutely right and it's in large part because Ted Cruz can win by losing. He is a young man. He can run for many cycles to come. He thinks about this as building a conservative majority, the way it took Ronald Reagan three or four cycles to build a majority. He doesn't have -- he doesn't worry so much about will he win the nomination this time.
MCMANUSBut the problem -- the terrible problem for the Republican establishment is he's exactly what they don't need, not only as their -- not as their nominee but on that debate stage pressing all of those other poor pragmatic candidates toward the right on issues like immigration. But just one other note, I hope your listeners will give us credit for spending a whole half hour before beginning to talk about the next presidential election. This was an act of great restraint on our part.
REHMBut Ted Cruz is going to challenge Mitch McConnell. It's going to be interesting to see just how far he will go to bring up those issues that are so important on which Republicans have not talked at all.
HENDERSONRight, and whether or not he's got the House backing him because in some of these fights he was sort of the majority leader for the House. He, of course, is very junior in the Senate but he was able to rally the Tea Party caucus, which is much more ample in the House than it is in the Senate around some of these issues. I think he's going to be a real, real thorn in the side for the party.
REHMNia-Malika Henderson, Doyle McManus and Ron Elvin. When we come back, we're going to open the phones, take your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. We'll go first to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Hi there, Tom, you're on the air.
TOMHey, Diane. You're the best, you and your crew. Love the show.
TOMI think -- just like the war hawks always tell us that the leader needs to educate the voters as to why we always need to have military action, Democrats should've educated the voters as to what this administration has done great. And I've listed it before. We know what they've done. It's a very good agenda. The Republicans just sat back and said no.
TOMAnd then, number two, Joni Ernst is gonna implode because the media did not, you know, gave her a free pass. I educated myself on her. She spoke about her personality, which is glowing, but her stands on issues, she's right there with Ted Cruz. She made the statement on tape, she's ready to use her gun against the government. What do people mean when they say that? They're ready to use their gun against the government.
TOMI'm calling from Harrisburg, where we just lost one our best and brightest to one of these militia people who spew this hate. So, again, Democrats should've ran on Obama's record. And once people find out the true Joni Ernst and the Ted Cruz, they'll implode.
HENDERSONYeah. And I think you're gonna hear that sentiment from a lot of Democrats. I was on Twitter last night with folks and that was their argument, too. I talked to Kasim Reed, who's the mayor of Atlanta and he said Democrat should've run on Obama's record and run as Democrats. They didn't. You know, I think it's tempting to sort of try to reverse engineer this race and figure out a way that Democrats should've pulled it off, but by every single measure, Republicans just outplayed Democrats from the top, President Obama, to the bottom, meaning, you know, sort of the grass roots Get Out The Vote effort.
HENDERSONSo it's a tough one to point to one single thing as a sort of silver bullet for Democrats.
ELVINGYou know, an awful lot of our politics is now run by consultants in both parties, people who run a lot of programs through computers and people who look at a lot of polls and people who look at a lot of history in the sense of who won and who lost doing what in what situation. They really game through it all. And pretty universally, the Democratic consultants felt that this was not a year to try to defend the president.
ELVINGAnd this is, look, this is a six-year pattern. If you go back through the last say 60 years, even 70 years, if you look at every president who had two full terms in office, who actually got to serve through two full terms in office, they all had to deal with an opposition party-controlled Senate in the last two years of their presidency. Happened to W., happened to Clinton, happened to Ronald Reagan, who went out and tried to save the Senate in 1986 and wound up, you know, losing the Senate, even though he campaigned actively for it and still had pretty good numbers.
ELVINGAnd even Dwight Eisenhower, all the way back in the '50s, who lost 17 seats in 1958 and had a Democratic Senate to really deal with -- he had a little bit of a Democratic Senate before, but he really had one after that. And so this has been definitional in our politics since World War II.
REHMBut Doyle, at the same time, there are people, certainly Democrats, who point to Obama and say, look at what he has actually accomplished.
MCMANUSAnd President Obama, himself, on the campaign trail spent a whole lot of time saying, look at what I've actually accomplished, yeah. So this really goes to the elemental question, why is the president so unpopular? And I think the answer is, I'm afraid to say, because life is unfair, because the economy still feels lousy to people, their incomes aren't going up, the job picture still isn't comfortable for people and even though the economy is recovering and if you're an investor, you probably feel fine about the economy.
HENDERSONYeah, the stock market's way up.
MCMANUSBut here's the problem. If you're an investor, you're probably a Republican so it doesn't matter. But if you're not an investor, if you're just a working stiff hoping to have more job opportunities and a rising income, it hasn't delivered for you. Who are you gonna blame? You're gonna blame the guy in the White House. And then, the second piece of this is, there has developed over the last two years, a kind of management critique of the Obama administration.
MCMANUSThe healthcare rollout, the VA problems, even Ebola. Again, life is unfair, the president isn't in charge of Ebola, but he gets blamed for it. Now, here's the silver lining. Again, I'm gonna go out on a limb. If this economy continues to recover, if this Congress can get anything done with the president or even without him, by two years from now Barack Obama's gonna look a lot better than he does now.
REHMBut isn't that the challenge for the Ted Cruzes of the world to cooperate to get things done, really?
MCMANUSThe Ted Cruzes of the world aren't going to cooperate.
HENDERSONTed Cruz, yeah, no.
MCMANUSBut it is the challenge for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and that's why they become the most interesting actors in American politics for the next couple months.
HENDERSONAnd we'll see immediately what Obama is going to do. He's gonna talk later this afternoon. He's already made overtures to the new leaders in the House, in the Senate. The big test, I think, right away is what is what is he doing immigration reform. He said before that he would get this done by the end of the year, an executive action. Does he actually do that or is the danger that he poisons the well with Republicans by moving forward on executive action?
HENDERSONBut the danger there is if he doesn't, then perhaps Republicans will take the opportunity later to do something on immigration reform and taking that issue away from Obama and the Democrats.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Bruce in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
BRUCEHi there. You know, here's a point that I just don't think there's any way around. It doesn't matter what happens in the world, the media are the people that educate all the rest of us as to what has happened, what the ramifications of what has happened is. And so, you guys, not you personally, but you know what I'm saying, you know, this is how a party that started a $2 trillion war by mistake and drove us into a near depression and isn't particularly concerned about global warming, suddenly is put back in power.
BRUCEWhereas, just like the previous caller said, the guy who, you know, puts out the Affordable Care Act and who raises cafe standards, the economy is improving and the job scene is improving, these are facts, but it's always, no matter what it is, characterized by the media. The media educates Americans.
ELVINGYou know, the economy was improving in 1992 pretty much through the entire year it was gradually improving and the recession was definitely over. But just about the only person who was willing to say that in public was George H.W. Bush who was in the process of losing his presidency because people didn't feel that the economy was getting better and he kept telling them that it was.
ELVINGThat's the dilemma of being in power in the way that Barack Obama is in power today, where things are getting better, he gets very little credit. It's very hard to claim the credit and where things, any things, including the secret service failing to protect the White House and failing to protect the president reflects badly on the management of the secret service by the administration, which ultimately becomes part of the indictment.
ELVINGThat's why six-year elections are so terrible. We've gotten tired of the incumbent. We have felt that the incumbent hasn't done enough of what he promised, so Hispanics are so unhappy with him that he was interrupted in his last week on the campaign trail by hecklers who were demanding that he do more on immigration, even as he's trying to fight off Republican challengers who are criticizing him for doing too many executive actions.
MCMANUSBut let me take up the point that it's the problem that the media haven't educated the voters. You know, we heard the same complaint from the Romney campaign after he took a drubbing in 2012 so it can't be that we're miseducating the voters, you know, in a Democratic fashion in 2012 and in a Republican fashion in 2014.
MCMANUSYou know what? This is still a quite closely divided country. Most of these races were actually settled with a margin of one or two or four points, not 20 points. What really mattered was which voters turned out. Republicans turned out again in a midterm election and Democratic voters didn't.
REHMBut the big question that our caller poses, is there a better way for us who are involved in the media at large to do a better job?
HENDERSONYou know, perhaps. I mean, this is a critique we often hear from folks and I always say, you know, there's so many different media outlets out there, whether it's the Washington Post, you know, the Washington Times...
HENDERSONWhatever you want to read. If you want to look at Fox, if you want to look at MSNBC, there's plenty of information out there, whether or not voters want to take it all in and make decisions on those.
REHMBut aren't voters really sticking to the reflection of their own interests?
HENDERSONYes. Voters want to hear what they want to hear. So if you're a liberal, maybe you watch MSNBC and if you're a conservative, you watch Fox. But it's a common critique of the media.
ELVINGYou know, that's all quite true and that's quite powerful and I think it's probably getting more so, getting more intense in our time. But at the same time, also, there is such a thing as the media just telling you what's going on and a lot of the media just do that and we're primarily interested in attracting people's attention and keeping it and so we tend to go to the things that people react to most strongly.
ELVINGAnd that means we cover problems. We cover troubles. We cover disasters. We cover diseases and we cover storms and we cover misbehavior. And those things, over a period of time, all kind of create a impression that everything is kind of coming apart and everyone is less secure and everyone is less happy, even if it's not true.
MCMANUSAnd just to mention one other factor. As the traditional media institutions have contracted over the past 20 years because their business has fallen apart, the part of the media that has suffered the most is actually regional and local newspapers. So if you're talking about House races and Senate races -- and Iowa is a case in point here. An earlier caller said, gee, you know, people didn't get the truth about Joni Ernst in Iowa.
MCMANUSWell, the Des Moines Register is a much smaller newspaper in terms of the number of journalists it has doing investigations and covering campaigns that it was 10 or 20 years ago. There is a gap in media coverage.
REHMHere's an email from Valerie who says, "was it worth it for Democrats to push through legislation like Obamacare without Republican support, knowing now they've lost many congressional seats, plus control of the Senate? Were the gains worth these losses?"
ELVINGA wonderful historical question. We asked that in 1994 when the Democrats had tried and failed to push through healthcare reform. I think the gamble that they took, and it's a historic gamble, was that this was an opportunity with nearly 60 seats in the Senate, almost 60 percent of the House to pass something that was at least closer to an image that the Democratic has had since the 1940s of a national healthcare plan, a national healthcare system.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Phil in Hebron, Illinois. You're on the air.
PHILGood morning, all. I just wanted to ask your panel a question. I'm following the Chicago media this morning and they're saying after everybody with the last name of Clinton and the president and the president's wife and all the Obamas came here to fully support 100 percent our governor being reelected and he lost that this is, in fact, the home state of the president rebuking the president. Want to know what the thought of that was.
HENDERSONYeah. Something similar in some ways happened in 2010 in Illinois. They had something of a row at the hands of Republicans even though Michelle Obama spent quite a lot of time there campaigning for a Senate candidate -- a Democratic Senate candidate and some House candidates as well. But, again, I think surrogates only go so far in these elections and campaigns when there's such a sour mood in the country.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Cindy in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Hi there.
CINDYHi. Diane Rehm, thank you for your show. I am so grateful for your show.
CINDYI have a question. In Congress now, there seem to be fewer and fewer moderates. In North Carolina, we're saying goodbye to Senator Kay Hagan who, from my perspective, was a moderate and I'm really concerned about the Tea Party faction. That's what I worry about. Do your panelists know or you know approximately how many Tea Party Republicans there are now and how many there will be, just a rough guess? And I'll take my answer off the air, ma'am.
ELVINGWell, you can't really go by the numbers of people who joined the Tea Party caucus or anything like that. That really isn't a very good indicator. So there's no hard list. I would say, in the Senate, we'll see somewhere in the neighborhood of high digits or low double digits who were willing to follow Ted Cruz or follow Mike Lee, from Utah, or other hard line conservatives and that's going to be a real challenge as we've talked about earlier for Mitch McConnell.
ELVINGIn the House, that's a really interesting question. It appears that this added group of 12 or 14 Republicans who are coming to the House are not a Tea Party type across the board, but some of them definitely are. So there will be at least a shot at denying John Boehner enough votes to be the House Speaker. I don't predict that he will fail. I think he will be able to pull it together, but there'll be talk of whether or not he's conservative enough for the House and some of the Tea Party people will fulminate on that question.
ELVINGThere may be 30 of them. There may be 40 of them. But hey, we're up to 240 some Republicans and most of those people are going to be focused on reelection in 2016 and more particularly than in any other time that I can remember, they're gonna be focused on helping their party win the White House.
MCMANUSBut the other side, the flip side of Cindy's question is, well, what happened to those Southern moderates, like Kay Hagan, and that's a really important factor that -- that should be noted. You know, the Senate -- the House evolved over the last 20 years, certainly 2010, cleaned out most of these blue dog moderate Democrats from the House. The Senate was like the last wildlife preserve of the Southern white modern Democrat and this time, in this cycle, they lost not just Kay Hagan in North Carolina, but David Pryor in -- sorry, Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
MCMANUSI'm old enough. I remember his father. And almost certainly Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. So not only is the Senate going to be more conservative and not only is the Senate Republican caucus going to be a little more conservative, but the Democratic caucus is going to be more mono chromyl and more liberal.
REHMAnd the last question from Jamie in St. Louis, "Please identify any one or two features of those Democrats who did manage to win. Was it local issues, personality and character, anything the 2016 nominee can build on?"
HENDERSONYeah, I mean, I guess Shaheen was able to win in New Hampshire. She had Clinton there. She had kind of a weaker candidate in Scott Brown, sort of a carpetbagger from Massachusetts. Jeff Merkley out in Oregon won because Oregon's just a bluer state and he had a weaker candidate. Lessons for 2016, I, for one, think it's a little too early to draw conclusions about what Democrats should do in 2016 or Republicans from this race.
MCMANUSRun in a blue state and run against a lesser Republican challenger.
REHMAnd that's how the Dems won.
MCMANUSThat's right. You run in -- the Democrats who ran in Democratic states won. Democrats who ran in Republican or even swing states, with the exception of Shaheen, all lost.
REHMDoyle McManus of The Los Angeles Times, Ron Elving of NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post, great discussion, everybody. Thank you.
MCMANUSThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.
New York Times technology reporter Cade Metz lays out how A.I. works, why it sometimes "hallucinates" and the dangers it may pose to society.
It’s a story familiar to any working parent. You get a call. It’s your child’s school saying they are sick and to come get them. And you can’t because you’re…
Commentscomments powered by Disqus