Earl Ofari Hutchinson
On the night of November 5, 2008, a beaming and buoyant newly elected President Obama took the stage to the wild cheers of more than 100,000 supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park as the nation’s first African-American president. At the same time, a top advisor to his defeated GOP rival John McCain gloomily predicted that “we won’t rebound from this for years.” It seemed a more than safe prediction. Not only did Obama’s hope and change theme steamroll the GOP, but the GOP shellacking also spread to Congress where the Democrats ramped up their majority control to both the House and Senate.
The airwaves were filled with assured chatter from political experts that the GOP could be well on its way to becoming a permanent also ran party. That seemed a good bet too given Bush’s dismal record on the war and the economy, a shrinking white, older, conservative base, and the spectacular growth of women, blacks, Latinos, and a changing age, gender and racial demographic that seemed to permanently roll the political dice in the Democrat’s favor.
But buried underneath the way too premature epitaph for the GOP were a few uncomfortable but ominous signs that the Democratic triumphal march rested on far too many illusions and miscalculations. The start was the words of now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who never tired of saying that the GOP’s goal was to make Obama a one-term president, or failing that a failed presidency.
This was just the opening gun of what the GOP endlessly promised would be a bitter, protracted and divisive fight to stymie Obama's presidency. It had the power, influence, and numbers to do just that. GOP House leaders kicked it off by making it clear that they wouldn’t consider talking with Obama behind closed doors in the future to try to iron out their differences. McConnell went further and couched his war like challenge to Obama as a battle to save the nation's future, and played the Senate like a fine tuned fiddle to insure that on issues from gun control to battering the Affordable Care Act his opposition remained in lockstep with and even energized the GOP’s traditional voter base.
Next was organization. The GOP stole a big page from the Democrat’s 2008 and 2012 play book and built a ground game that included massive phone banks, the creative use of social media, compiled and worked the mountains of voter lists, put hundreds of boots on the ground to work GOP friendly precincts to get out the vote, and strategically spent on the crucial campaigns in the swing states. It learned another lesson from the election debacle of 2012, namely avoid putting up far out, nutty, fringe candidates for Senate and Congressional offices. It picked safe, reliable, impeccably credentialed, and imminently electable conservatives to challenge incumbent Democrats in the key races.
Then it banked on the traditional indifference, disinterest, apathy and general fall off of black, Hispanic, youth, and women voters in the mid-terms. This was partly driven by the Democrats utter failure to inspire, energize, and mobilize these voters. Scare stories about the big, bad, evil Republicans was no substitute for a stout defense of Democratic accomplishments from health care to environmental, voting rights and labor protections, and an assault on income inequality. Instead the Democrats ran from these issues and even more shamefully the man who championed them, namely Obama. The Democrat’s tepid and belated get out the vote drives, scare ads, and appearances on black radio stations proved just as weak and ineffectual. At the same time, the GOP banked on the steady vote of older, white, and conservative voters. It was a good bank that paid off.
Then there is the crushing power of money, and how to use it most effectively. Since many well-heeled corporate bankrolled candidates went down to defeat in the 2008 presidential election, some saw this as a grand rejection of the corporate, banking and wealthy ultra conservative bankrollers ability to buy their way into office with their handpicked conservative candidates. That was a wrong read. A GOP compliant Supreme Court sealed the deal with its successive decisions that virtually gave free license for GOP influenced PACs, special interest groups and individuals to go on a wild campaign spending spree largely free of transparency and accountability. The nearly $4 billion that was spent on the 2014 mid-term election was testament to that. The GOP put its share of the bounty to good use in being calculating, selective and prudent about the conservatives that its campaign financiers bankrolled.
Then there was Obama. The GOP's greatest weapon was the frozen political divide in the country. Nearly 50 percent of the nation's voters not only did not support Obama in 2012, but expressed total contempt for his policies and his administration. The GOP banked hard and worked tirelessly to swivel that divisiveness into a mid-term election voter revolt at his policies.
The GOP’s 2012 election defeat in no way sated its thirst to regain its dominance in national politics and that includes its ultimate goal of winning back the White House in 2016. The 2014 mid-term election was merely a dress rehearsal to attain that goal. And the way it cynically but smartly honed its game plan this go round the colossal danger is that it could succeed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.