Why The President Wins If The Democrats Lose

Few things are ever certain politics. But this one seems like it might qualify: the Democratic Party will suffer a colossal defeat in the fast-approaching midterm congressional elections. Perhaps even a defeat as devastating as the 1994 and 1946 midterm elections, when House Democrats lost over 50 seats.

There is evidence for these gloomy projections. Pollsters have documented the declining standing of congressional Democrats. Pundits have explained why American voters are increasingly turning away from the Democratic Party. And politicians have felt the scorn of an electorate enraged by the troubling economic turmoil that has shaken the country.

But here is the paradox about the fate awaiting the Democratic Party in November: President Barack Obama actually wins if congressional Democrats lose. The President will find himself in a stronger position to face reelection in 2012 if his Democratic Party loses its congressional majority in the 2010 midterm elections.

Back to the polls for a moment. Today, the nation's weathervane is pointing unmistakably in the direction of the Republican Party. Since the spring of 2010, Republicans have looked better and better to the American electorate.

In March 2010, Congressional Quarterly projected a 20-seat gain for House Republicans in the coming midterms. By May, that number had climbed to 28 and by mid-September it had jumped to 48 seats, including toss-ups.

Polls from RealClearPolitics have forecast gains even more encouraging for the Republican Party. In March 2010, House Republicans were projected to win by a margin of 47 seats, in May the predicted total had risen to 56, and by mid-September it stood at 67 seats, including toss-ups.

One more important data point: InTrade betting markets have only confirmed these national trends. In March 2010, InTrade gave House Republicans a 43 percent chance of winning a majority. In May, the probability had risen to 47 percent and by mid-September it had vaulted to an overwhelming 70 percent.

It therefore appears quite likely that the Republican Party will take back the House of Representatives in November.

What explains this Republican resurgence? One view is that the President has fallen short of keeping his campaign promises.

The President pledged to kick-start the national economy with a twenty-first century industrial revolution of green, high-tech, and oil-liberating innovation. But today the economy continues to languish.

The President pledged to stimulate job-creation in numbers that would compare to the millions generated during Bill Clinton's wildly successful administration. But today Americans are searching desperately for employment in painfully high numbers.

The President pledged to finally shut down Guantanamo Bay. But today Guantanamo Bay remains open.

The President pledged to take a bipartisan approach to fixing health care. But the new health care law seems to have elicited more criticisms than cheers.

And the President pledged to change the divisive tone of politics in Washington. But today the discord in Washington is more acerbic than perhaps ever before in modern American history.

Whether or not Republicans are right to describe the President's record in these stark terms, they are certainly correct to claim that the President has missed a number of opportunities. Here is why: for the first two years of his term, the President has enjoyed Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Historically, Presidents have been at their strongest when their party has controlled the Congress. But not so for the current President. He might as well have faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress because he had to stare down strong congressional opposition throughout the entirely of his first term so far.

Return now to the paradox: the President wins if the Democrats lose in November. Why does the President want to face Republican congressional majorities in the last half of his first term? Because that will give him the villain he needs as he undertakes his own quest for reelection.

To understand why, imagine the Democratic Party retains its majorities in both the House and the Senate after November's midterm elections. American voters will subsequently hold the President to a higher standard of performance because they will expect him to get everything and anything he wants passed by an ostensibly friendly Democratic-controlled Congress.

But the reality is that even a Democratic Congress will not follow blindly the President's agenda. There are two reasons why. First, Congress does not take kindly to presidential orders--nor should it, because it is an equal branch of government whose constitutional duty is to exercise independent judgment about the course of the nation. Second, Republican Senators in the minority have at their disposal the power to block legislation with the notorious procedure known as the filibuster. And in the last two years, Republicans have used or threatened to use the filibuster at a pace that could more than triple the old record for filibustering.

Therefore a Democratic congressional majority would be the worst possible news for the President because whether the Congress is Democratic or Republican, the President will come no closer to fulfilling his pledges to the American electorate by the time of the next presidential election.

However, if the Republicans win a congressional majority in November's midterm elections, the President will have struck political gold.

The President will be able justifiably to blame the gridlock in Washington on the obstructive Republican House or Republican Senate, or both.

"It's their fault," the President will tell Americans. "I am working hard to try to get things done for you in Washington but Republicans are, always have been, and always will be the party of no."

That will be the President's rallying cry in the next two years leading up to the 2012 presidential election. And it will be his best chance to win reelection. The President will implore the American people to help him and the Democratic Party take back the Congress in order to overcome the Republican roadblock to progress: "Vote for me, vote for Democrats in Congress, and together we will end the gridlock in Washington and finally get things done for you."

He will appeal to their hearts and minds, to their pride, their self-interest, and their concern for the larger public good: "You were there for me in 2008, and now I need you again in 2012. Together we can take back the Congress and finally revive our economy, create the jobs of tomorrow, and once and for all shut down Guantanamo!"

That is the President's roadmap to a second term. Strangely enough, he is more likely to win reelection in 2012 if he spends the next two years battling an uncooperative Republican Congress rather than collaborating with a friendly Democratic one.

Crossposted from Race-Talk.