For five years, the Democratic Party has remained uncharacteristically united in its political support for President Obama. From universal health care, to gay marriage, to cap-and-trade, Democrats of all stripes have put their own political careers on the line to help this president win big, hoping that his success would bolster theirs.
But with more than half of the country now viewing him as a dishonest broker, Obama’s upside-down approval ratings prove that even his staunchest supporters – Hispanics, Millennials, liberals, women, and even black voters – are looking elsewhere for “hope” and “change.”
The latest Gallup poll shows President Obama suffering a staggering 23% loss in support from Hispanics, a 15% loss amongst Millennials, a 14% loss amongst liberals and women, and a 9% loss amongst African Americans since the end of 2012. In short, 2013 has been an unmitigated disaster for the president – so bad, that MSNBC's Chris Matthews recently called him the “biggest political loser” of the year.
Given these circumstances, and with midterm elections on the horizon, smart Republicans will recognize Obama’s political demise as an opportunity to win over Democratic voters.
Nothing so ambitious as entire voting blocs, and certainly not by demanding a 180-degree turnaround in their political views, but issue by issue, over time, Republicans can start chipping away at Democratic strongholds.
Obama’s missteps open the door to savvy Republicans, who can now engage Democratic voters that previously shut them out, by directly addressing their frustrations with Obama’s policies on such hot-button issues as health care, government surveillance, and the still-sluggish economy.Better yet, they can do so while staying true to their conservative principles.
A “divide and conquer” strategy is even more plausible when one recognizes that the Democratic Party is far from monolithic.
A close look at the Democratic Party exposes a loose-knit group of constituents with diverse and often diametrically opposed political interests.
Though previously united in their efforts to support a popular Obama, an unpopular Obama has already begun exposing the natural rifts between Democratic voting blocs; rifts that will only grow deeper as Obama’s approval ratings sink.
Forcing weakened Democrats to choose one group’s interests over another will naturally cause the losing side to look for alternatives, which Republicans can offer with carefully crafted messaging and policy prescriptions.
Most notably, a new crop of young, independent-minded millennials, who are leery of government surveillance programs, dislike having their health care options taken away, and haven’t been able to find jobs due to the ongoing recession, already identify with Independents more than either party, and are thus open to considering all options.
A recent poll showed Democrats’ advantage with millennials quickly fading: amongst young voters, aged 18-24, Democrats hold a mere 6% advantage over Republicans, representing a significant shift since 2012. If this trend continues, Democrats will no longer be able to count on the youth to generate voter enthusiasm and turnout that a popular Obama once enjoyed.
The president’s efforts to push an aggressively liberal agenda on multiple policy fronts have also isolated him from left-leaning independents, moderate Democrats, and even self-proclaimed liberals.
Democrats who are more socially or economically conservative than the president – including a small percentage of African-Americans, most suburban women, and a growing number of Hispanics – increasingly feel as if the president is just too liberal for their tastes.
Thus, the more prepared Republicans are to offer center-right alternatives to Obama’s extreme proposals, the more likely they will be to attract the support of these constituencies.
As of now, Republicans’ window of opportunity is wide open, but Democrats are already rushing to close it.
Over the past few weeks, Democrats have purposefully distanced themselves from their faltering president, in what can only be seen as a series of carefully calculated political moves to save their party and their own political careers.
First, Senator Reid and a group of his Democratic colleagues declared that the White House hadn’t taken their concerns over ObamaCare’s rollout into consideration.
Then, a group of centrist Democratic senators announced that they’ve drafted amendments to replace those parts of the Affordable Care Act that are most distasteful to voters, who disapprove of ObamaCare by nearly a 2 to 1 margin.
Most recently, Democrats in and outside of the Obama administration have attempted to tap millennial angst over NSA surveillance programs by urging the president to limit their reach and scope.
Democrats aren’t going down without a fight, even if it means dismantling the president on their way down.
This means that Republicans need to act quickly. And some already are – notably Rand Paul, whose efforts to engage African-Americans in Detroit and other metropolitan areas focus on economic remedies for depressed urban regions.
Senator Paul doesn’t stop at rhetoric, either; he’s already sponsored the Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2013, proposing lowered income and corporate tax rates to 5 percent in municipalities that have filed for bankruptcy protection or are at risk of doing so.
In other words, he’s offering action in lieu of promises: real help to urban regions that need it. So it’s no surprise that for the first time in a long time, the African-American community is listening.
Republicans would be wise to follow Rand’s lead. By applying conservative principles to the economic and social concerns of traditionally Democratic constituencies, the Party will eventually make enough gains to tilt election outcomes in their favor.
For when rhetoric is followed by meaningful legislative action and community engagement, Republicans gain credibility, giving them a fair shot at launching a sea change in party politics.
And that, my friends, is “change” we can all thank President Obama for.
John Jordan is CEO of Jordan Winery, co-founder of Labrador OmniMedia (creator of Tastevin, a tablet-based restaurant beverage list software), and is a member of the Hoover Institution's Board of Overseers at Stanford University.