As the 2014 election season heats up, President Barack Obama is faced with the daunting task of holding the Senate. With Republican challenges in South Dakota, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia, Obama seems saddled with an impossible task. All the above states voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and appear likely to replace incumbent Democrats with Republicans.
Yet survey after survey show Democrats narrowly keeping the Senate. Despite Obama having a 44 percent approval rating, he does have the healthiest economy since he took office. Moreover Obamacare is a done deal and no longer is as much of a threat to Democratic chances in the fall. The world crisis also gives Obama a boost, placing the immigration problem in south Texas far to the rear in priorities.
Republicans are convinced that if they become pragmatic rightwingers they will succeed. This has left them a slew of dull and awkward candidates that try to appeal to the "base," while not attracting unfavorable publicity. Evoking the memory of George W. Bush, which only reminds the voter of Iraq and the financial crash, hardly provides a winning message. Given what looks like a glide to Congressional dominance, the GOP has decided to mail in the campaign. It is a canvass passionless and hollow.
What they fail to realize is that Obama, who is halfway to finalizing his sixth year, is no longer a mystery to the American people. The old attempts to de-legitimize his presidency have failed. The electorate continues to be altered by time and the old divides are observed.
Mitch McConnell has a tough race with Allison Grimes in Kentucky. Now in his seventies, McConnell looks like and sounds like a Foghorn Leghorn senator of an earlier era. Brandishing muskets and appealing to older rural constituencies used to work like a charm. Now it appears dated and stale. Compared to his colleague Rand Paul, McConnell seems out of touch - a career politician trying to imitate Sam Adams and Patrick Henry.
For Congressional Republicans, there has been increasing political blindness to the party that they have developed in the Clinton and Obama years. As McConnell thoughtfully observed, in a stab at Paul, the new constituents of the GOP are not of the "John Galt" stripe. In other words, working middle class who bear a distinct resemblance to old Democrats. They are dependent, partially, on government, yet they refuse to be dominated by it. Galt, an Ayn Rand-ish character, signifies a man obsessed with wealth and contemptuous of charity. Most Republicans no longer live in that intellectual neighborhood.
But the McConnells and the Haley Barbours live on a block of that turf. Playing on petit prejudices in order to stir their middle class supporters, they have created a sort of populism. Not particularly coherent but nevertheless potent. Irony has it that the GOP may have succeeded where Democrats failed by conjuring up a genuine class struggle within their own ranks.