The Obama Autopsy

At Politico, Gabriel Debenedetti reports that fmr. Pres. Obama and Organizing For Action want to be involved in rebuilding the Democratic Party that suffered so mightily during his administration.  Apparently, state and local Dem officials are less than thrilled, including Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb: “OFA had no faith or confidence in the state parties so they created a whole separate organization, they took money away and centralized it in DC.  They gave us a great president for eight years, but we lost everywhere else.”

I have some concentric thoughts about this.

First, there is the easy irony.  The concentration of money and power in DC was terrible for the the Democratic Party, but it’s apparently still their philosophy for governing everyone and everywhere else.

Out of power, Dems suddenly rediscover the benefits of federalism, and this is no exception.  But it’s purely situational, to be forgotten the next time they win Congress or the White House.  (In fairness, it remains to be seen whether the GOP will live up to its federalist rhetoric with control of the legislative and executive branches.)

Second, if they took federalism more seriously, Obama, OFA and the Dems might gain some insight into why the last eight years were good for Obama and not for the Dems.

Fmr. Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm thinks OFA should fold into the DNC.  But that didn’t happen after the 2012 election, in part because — as Obama ’08 guru David Plouffe noted — “you can’t just transfer” the Obama campaign machine to another candidate.

Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 in large part because she did not inherit enough of Obama’s successful electoral coalition.  Lacking the characteristics that ballooned Obama’s support with the Emerging Democratic Majority (or Rising American Electorate, or whatever they’re calling it now), she performed more like John Kerry.

During the Dubya administration, the DNC had largely figured out that adapting to state and local conditions could help them maximize their gains, as they did in 2006.  But they forgot it after Obama’s success under even more favorable political fundamentals in 2008.

Third, Republicans ought to consider whether this story holds lessons for them in the Trump era.  After all, Pres. Trump plans to set up his own version of OFA, though — as with all things Trump — this has not been without drama.

As widely noted, the maps of Trump’s victory often diverged from those of traditional GOPers.  Trump appealed disproportionately to whites without college degrees, while other GOP candidates appealed more to college-educated whites.

Most Senate candidates outpolled Trump (or, in the cases of Pat Toomey and Joe Heck, fell slightly short).  The average GOP House candidate also outpolled Trump by a few percentage points.

Since the election, much has been written and said about Trump remaking the GOP.  He will undoubtedly be the face of the franchise during his tenure.  But Republicans might consider the risks in trying to realign themselves to a coalition that may belong more to Trump than the GOP.

Fourth, the GOP should consider, as The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost has, that historically, “[t]he moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”  Indeed, the recent history has been for the party holding the White House to lose the Congressional majority it enjoyed when its president took office.  Before that, we had eight years of power split between a GOP president and a Democratic Congress.

This pattern informs the incentives for both parties and for Pres. Trump.  It partially explains why Dems are adopting what they see as the GOP’s successful strategy of obstruction.  It partially explains the impatience of some on the right to move faster on a Trump or GOP agenda.

Ironically, those two incentives may contribute to a self-fulfilling vicious political cycle, among not only public officials, but also voters — who demand change by voting for gridlock.

Update: On Feb. 17, The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng reported on leaked emails detailing the depths of rage among state Democratic activists and leaders.  Does the GOP really want to land in a similar place in a few years?

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