It’s all over now but the counting and the shouting. This has been a remarkable midterm election that became more the referendum on a presidency than usual. It’s as though every Republican campaign had rewritten Bill Clinton’s Democratic campaign cry and posted it over the door at campaign headquarters: “It’s Obama, Stupid.”
This time, the Republican candidates, tempered in the fire of the party primaries, committed no crippling gaffes in the way that several Republican candidates had ruined previous campaigns. The most damaging remarks, in fact, were those committed by President Obama himself, who said the congressional elections were crucial because his policies were on the ballots. Democrats everywhere cringed.
The Democrats tried several themes. It was an election about nothing in particular, just a routine midterm examination of the body politic. “Nothing to see here. Just vote and move along.” It was a ruse that didn’t work.
Then it was “the Republican war on women.” The Democrats were all that stood between American women and their birth-control devices: “Evil, rich Republicans want to take them away.” That didn’t work, either.
The race card, dog-eared, tattered and crushed from constant use, having been taken out so many times and flashed like a replica of the Cross before the eyes of Count Dracula, was pulled once more on cue. That, too, failed to dent the gathering consensus that Barack Obama is a good husband, devoted father, a duffer who may one day break par, a talker with a gift for occasional eloquence, but a president in over his head in a mean and unforgiving world. Everything he touches turns to mush, or worse.
These are not the times for incompetence. The president came to office with no experience, armed only with the good will of the public and with high hopes and great expectations. The list of disappointments became a long one, beginning with the rollout of Obamacare, the four Americans who died in still unexplained circumstances in Benghazi, scandals at the Veterans Administration, the IRS and the Secret Service, and finally the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the implications for its spread to the United States. The impression grew throughout the campaign, and strengthened in the final days, that no one was in charge. Mr. Obama appointed an Ebola czar, and he hasn’t been seen since.
The Democrats started with a weak hand. The sitting president’s party has lost seats in nearly every midterm election over the past 80 years. Bill Clinton, the Democrat, prevailed in 1998 and George W. Bush and the Republicans picked up seats in 2002. But both incumbents enjoyed high approval ratings, and Mr. Obama’s approval as measured in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll lags at a stunning 38 percent. One Democratic consultant likens the president to a pinata, the party bag that showers candies and gifts when broken with a stick. Every Republican got a whack this year.
The late polls reveal a lot about who the voters are. Fifty-four percent of Republicans told Reuters pollsters that the president’s handling of the Ebola crisis is important, against only 40 percent of the Democrats. About the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, 63 percent of the Republicans are concerned, but only 43 percent of the Democrats.
Now comes payday. No more bands, no more bunting and no more shrill cries. Let the accounting begin.