Caution – this post contains political analysis. If that will cause you distress, you should probably skip this post!
Yesterday was the 2014 mid-term elections, in which the Republican party increased its majority in the House of Representatives, took control of the Senate, increased its hold on Governorships, and increased it hold on state legislatures. All this, just two years after Barak Obama was re-elected with the highest vote of any re-elected president in history and everyone was talking about how the trends in the American electoral landscape had the Republican party on the road to oblivion. How did this happen? I believe that it was through an incredible piece of political jujitsu.
Jujitsu is a martial art developed in Japan in using the strength and weight of an adversary to disable him. Following the 2012 presidential election, the great strength of the Democratic victory was the huge number of motivated new and young voters that had gotten excited about politics because of Barak Obama. Immediately following that election, the primary strategy of the Republicans became blocking any initiative of President Obama (deny him any victories), coupled with blaming President Obama for anything and everything that happened in the world (one congressman even went so far as to say that an earthquake happened in Turkey due to Obama’s failure to lead). The Republicans were trying to take the Democrats greatest strength (President Obama and his new coalition of supporters) and neutralize it – or even make it seem to be a weakness.
The strategy worked, especially since the Obama White House provided enough gaffes and unforced errors (especially the healthcare web site rollout) to give the messages of the strategy credibility. Republican strategists, already deep into connecting everything bad in the world with Obama, began publicly saying that they intended to frame the 2014 election as a referendum on Obama. Democratic strategists reacted by deciding to try to frame every race as a local election to be decided on purely local issues rather than national ones. In other words, the Republicans tried to take the enthusiasm away from the new Obama coalition of voters by saying that Obama was bad and the Democrats essentially agreed with them by running away from the President. Understandably in such a situation, the Obama coalition did say home during the 2014 election and the Republicans very nearly won every “toss-up” race.
Might Democratic candidates have fared better if their party’s strategy had not been to run away from President Obama but rather to embrace him and his policies? Might that have kept the Obama coalition intact and motivated, resulting in Democratic victories? The world will never know. But the reason that the world will never know is that the Republican strategists were able to get the Democratic strategists to turn their backs on their greatest strength. Congratulations to the Republican strategists. Shame on the Democratic strategists.
Political jujitsu – where one party wins an election by using the strength and weight of the other party against itself.