BOSTON: Next Tuesday looks bleak for Barack Obama and the Democrats.
History tells us that the president’s party usually suffers losses in midterm elections. That’s certainly been true when those midterms come in his second term.
It happened to Dwight Eisenhower in 1958; Democrats, already in control of Congress, made big gains in both chambers. It happened to Ronald Reagan in 1986; the GOP lost eight Senate seats, giving Democrats, who already controlled the House, a Senate majority as well.
And it happened in 2006, when President George W. Bush’s Republicans got what he himself called “a thumping” that turned both chambers over to the Democrats.
Indeed, of the post-war presidents elected to two terms, only Bill Clinton saw his party increase its strength in his second-term midterms. Amid a backlash over impeachment, the Democrats picked up five House seats, with no net loss in the Senate. Republicans, however, retained control of both chambers.
So given history and the country’s impatient, pessimistic mood, Nov. 4 likely won’t be a good day for Obama and his party-mates. Further, if the Republicans win the Senate, thereby consolidating their control of Congress, they will no doubt cast the election as a thorough repudiation of Obama and his agenda.
And yet, Obama’s domestic record is actually pretty solid. Further, the GOP’s central assertions about the administration’s policies have proved wrong. Remember the regular Republican warnings that raising taxes on upper earners — or job creators, as the GOP rebranded them — would derail the recovery? Well, with the recent upward revisions for July and August, private sector jobs are up some 2.6 million over the past 12 months. And consider this, from the nonpartisan Factcheck.org’s recent summary of Obama’s record: “The total number of jobs in September was nearly 5.5 million higher than when Obama was first sworn in. Four times more jobs have been added under Obama than were gained in George W. Bush’s eight years in office.”
Unemployment has now dropped to 5.9 percent. That’s 1.9 percent below where it was when Obama took office — and 4-plus percent below the joblessness peak of more than 10 percent in October of 2009.
As the economy has recovered, meanwhile, the short-term federal deficit — something Republicans gleefully attributed to Obama’s supposed overspending rather than a recession-caused revenue dropoff — has fallen from 9.8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009 to 2.8 percent for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Nor have the predictions come true that the Affordable Care Act would carry dire consequences for what Republicans imagine is the best health-care system in the world. Yes, the president was embarrassingly wrong in saying anyone who liked their health insurance plan could keep it. But overall, the ACA has meant that millions more now have coverage, and largely without big price spikes. Indeed, a September Kaiser Family Foundation study of health-coverage premiums in the nation’s 16 largest cites found the cost of plans would be down by about 1 percent next year. Another study estimates premium hikes of about 4 percent, which compares favorably to many pre-ACA years.
Oddly for a president who came to prominence as a communicator, Obama hasn’t been able to drive those messages home with voters. In part, that’s because vulnerable Democrats would rather avoid his policies than defend them, a political reality that has helped deprive the party of a coherent national presentation about domestic policy. The GOP and its allies in the conservative media have taken advantage of that vacuum to promote a sense that turmoil reigns in the country. Why, watching some of the campaign claims, one could easily think that Islamic State terrorists will soon come streaming across the Mexican border. Either that or Ebola-infected illegal immigrants.
But if the midterms do give Republicans the Senate gains they hope for, that will also change the dynamic in Washington. If the GOP comes to control the Senate as well as the House, Republicans will have some actual governing responsibility, and the national attention that comes with that. And whatever they do — or don’t do —- will help provide the backdrop for the 2016 presidential campaign.
Lehigh is a Boston Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @GlobeScotLehigh.