President Obama's campaign manager says that unless Republicans take the House, the Senate and every major governor's race, the 2010 midterms will have been a "colossal failure" for the GOP.
The scenario that looks most likely right now for Republicans is a majority in the House won with a gain of 45 to 50 seats, a potent Senate minority of 48 members and control of at least 30 governor's mansions after a gain of six. By David Plouffe's argument, even this massive gain would be a "colossal failure."Maybe.
But Power Play doubts that many of Plouffe's fellow Democrats would count that as a good outcome. In fact, most would rightly consider it a rout, if not an outright repudiation of the Obama agenda.
Even if Democrats can get their acts together enough to deny Republicans a House majority, the number of seats in which Democrats have fallen into a black hole of bad polling and are all but guaranteed of defeat - about 30 -- would be enough to render any remaining Democratic majority useless.
With infighting already plaguing Democrats on taxes, Afghanistan, spending and more, even a Republican fizzle would likely mean a return to the divided Congresses of the past where legislation goes to die.
In this "fizzle" scenario, Democrats would have some fun crowing about the Republican wave that wasn't on television for a few days, but the reality of governing without a mandate and a divided caucus would soon leave a bitter aftertaste.
Suggesting a year ago that taking over both houses of Congress was even possible for Republicans would have gotten one hooted down. Now, President Obama's own campaign manager has established it as the only benchmark of success for the minority party. Times do change.
Like Obama himself, Plouffe has an interest in painting Democrats as underdogs -- never mind that the last election left the party in a stronger position than at any time in a generation. Democrats want you to focus on the political "environment" as if it were some natural phenomenon apart from the events that transpired in Washington since January 2009. They talk as if they were suddenly caught in a downpour.
But polls show that most voters think Obama is too liberal and disagree with his major polices - stimulus, mandatory health care and global warming fees. In fact, Obama used to take pride in the fact that he undertook these things even though they were not popular. Remember "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president" from January?
Democrats didn't get caught in the rain, they dove into a lake. They can hardly now complain that they are all wet with voters.
When Obama told an audience in New Jersey on Wednesday that Republicans have an "enormous advantage" because of persistently high unemployment and the tendency of voters to blame the party in power for such things, it sounded as if he were describing some phenomenon separate and apart from him. In January, he was willing to defy voters. In October, he is but a victim of circumstance. This kind of abstraction goes with Plouffe's new threshold for Republican success or failure. Both assume that Republicans have tremendous advantages but don't acknowledge that Democrats themselves had anything to do with providing them.
Plouffe's expectations setting is intended to provide a softer landing after a bad election. It also shows that the loss did not come as a surprise. Better to have been unable to avoid an impending disaster than to have been blindsided.
It's akin to what White House insiders did before bad elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts over the past two years. In all three cases, administration officials let it be known to friendly reporters that the candidates in those races were the real problem. Creigh Deeds, Jon Corzine and Martha Coakley could hardly be called ideal candidates, but it was still noticeable that all three got some form of the brush off from the Obama team before they met their fates at the hands of the voters.
etter to blame forces beyond your control than to accept the damaging narrative that voters were reacting to the president's policies.
The narrative currently being pitched by those in the president's orbit is that Democrats are going to have a bad time on Nov. 2 because of high unemployment attributable to George W. Bush and a lack of Democratic enthusiasm attributable to liberal ingratitude for the accomplishments of the Obama Democrats.
The hope on the Obama political team is that while Democrats may lose, the president's men will at least be proven wise in that defeat.
That's pretty small beer if you are one of the dozens of congressmen about to be put out on your rump. It's also bound to further embitter liberals whose patience with Obama is already nearing its end. A liberal who sees his party lose seats and is given part of the blame for, as Vice President Biden said, "whining" is not likely to feel better about the people in charge when it all went down.
Plouffe is credited (or blamed) with the current strategy that has Democrats working so hard to recreate the Obama coalition of 2008. The president and the Democratic establishment is pouring time, money and effort into arousing the liberal base, getting young voters back to the polls and recreating enthusiasm among minority voters. So far, there's no sign that anything of the sort is happening.
Yes, polls are tightening. But that is a natural function of the nearing election. Some Democratic voters are getting off the sidelines, but not nearly enough to overcome the party's staggering deficits with independent voters.
Plouffe took on his expanded role in the White House and national party just after the Scott Brown election. It seems to have been partly on his advice that Obama plunged forward on health care. When Rahm Emanuel argued for accepting a smaller bill, Plouffe and others from Obama's 2008 team led the charge to keep the plan, even if it meant using a procedural end-around in the Senate and even if the measure was unpopular in the polls.
Having helped create this dire political situation for Democrats, it is no wonder that Plouffe is eager to redefine success and failure. Regardless of what standard he sets, any of the electoral scenarios currently taking shape will mean trouble for Plouffe and his team.
Aside from dealing with the disappointed liberals, the Obama politicos will also have to contend with moderates and Clinton supporters who start calling for a change of direction in the party.
And Plouffe must know that it won't be Republicans to whom they are referring when rumbling Democrats use the term "colossal failure."