Although the California GOP lost one Congressional seat in the November election the party has much to celebrate elsewhere with a net gain of 12 new Members in the House to further pad its majority. As of now one race in Arizona and two in Louisiana remain undecided which could add to their majority.
Democrats needed a pick-up of 17 seats to retain control. They fell way short.
The GOP triumph was even more glaring in the U.S. Senate where Republicans have so far picked up 8 seats depending upon whether Louisiana Democrat, Mary Landrieu, can best her opponent in the coming Saturday run-off.
Even the dismal 42% turn out of California voters—a record low—which should have favored non-incumbents, had little discernible impact in a region where Democrats enjoy overwhelming ballot box dominance.
Nevertheless, this is the worst mid-term performance for a two-term president since 1946 when President Truman lost 55 seats and another 28 in 1950. The short-term question is how much will it affect Obama’s remaining time in office with the clock running down on much of what he hoped to accomplish.
The bigger question is whether it can change the balance of power in the 2016 presidential contest which is already getting underway? The answer to a large extent depends upon how Republicans interpret their responsibility now that they have been handed the leadership role in both chambers of Congress.
The recent victories will certainly give them early momentum. However, if their new-found claims to credibility are squandered by challenges to presidential authority which are likely to fail, for example, in what will be a doomed effort to overturn Obama’s Executive Order concerning millions of immigrants, the GOP could be putting a silver lining on the Democratic cloud.
The voters want to see things getting done and they don’t seem to particularly care who gets the credit. If two years from now little more has been accomplished and another Do-Nothing Congress has once again earned its name, the challengers who will then be the Democrats, may be looking back on this year’s misfortunes as a fading memory.
Clearly, the mid-term election showed immense voter dissatisfaction with the goings-on in Washington which filtered down into every political bailiwick. But it took most of its toll in jurisdictions where Democrats had only a tenuous hold and paid the price for an unpopular Administration that lacks the ability or has lost the enthusiasm to sell its policies and programs.
It will be a much different situation in 2016 where Republicans—many of them newcomers— will have to defend their seats in districts much more hospitable to the Democrats who will have a different standard bearer running for president.
California may be one of the few exceptions where President Obama still enjoys considerable popularity according to the latest polls. This cordiality is, however, illusive on a national map that has turned deeper Red as Obama’s credibility ratings had steadily plunged.
What has caused this cannot be simply written off as a mid-term election slump which all presidents invariably endure. Some might argue that it is not the government that is broken but the electorate which has despaired of thinking that good things will happen if only you wait long enough.
A few high profile retired government officials turned authors—including one prominent Californian, Leon Panetta, former Monterey Peninsula Representative, Defense Secretary, CIA Director and ex- Chief of Staff to President Clinton— makes the case in a recently published book that many of the problems can be traced directly to the small impenetrable White House inner circle which is running an unchallengeable Chicago-style top-down operation that will not brook any disagreement.
Panetta openly admits that he crossed swords on a number of occasions with the Obama high command over sensitive national security issues for which as chief of the nation’s intelligence services he had primary responsibility. This need for control is certainly hampering the search for someone willing to accept the position of Defense Secretary which was surrendered by Chuck Hagel.
While such insularity hides much of this friction from public view the end result is the image of a presidency often wavering in its judgments and vacillating on decisions ranging from the yet unresolved issues involving prisoner relocations from Guantanamo, to the initially tentative response to the unfolding crises regarding ISIS and Russia’s incursions in the Ukraine, to the drawing of a “red line” on Syria’s developments of chemical weapons.
Granted these are knotty issues fraught with immense international and legal implications and the troubles cannot be blamed solely on Obama. However the messages from the White House are often ambiguous at best, frequently contradictory and suggest that the Administration does not always have a firm grip on matters.
This may have something to do with the fact that the president was not well versed in foreign affairs and, with the exception of Hillary Clinton who learned much from her days at the side of her husband, has put reliance on individuals short in such experience.
Conversely, George W. Bush, another novice when it came to international relations, leaned heavily on a team well-educated in the dealings with other nations who nevertheless offered similarly questionable guidance on Iraq.
On the domestic front the ongoing budget imbroglios combined with zero progress on tax and immigration reform, anemic job growth for the lowest wage earners and middle class workers despite a recovering economy, and questions raised in many states about the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act, have also contributed to discontent that was reflected at the polls.
Some of this frustration may have even spilled over into the streets of Oakland and San Francisco where demonstrators unhappy with the results of the trial involving allegations of police brutality and racial discrimination in the fatal shooting of the 18 year old black man, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri were joined by others less concerned about any miscarriage of justice, but who have seen little or no improvement in their economic conditions.
Both the racial and class divides seem to be in full display as we approach the new year with the same battle lines being redrawn that put the voters in an ugly mood this time around.
What these events augur for the future with an Administration still licking its wounds after a stinging election defeat and with Congressional leaders seemingly gearing up for new battles is anyone’s guess.
The takeover of both houses of Congress by the GOP along with the retirements of two legendary California giants—Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) means individuals with markedly different views than their predecessors will be taking over the all-powerful Committee Chairmanships.
San Francisco Representative, Nancy Pelosi, retains her position as Minority Leader but she will be in charge of a Caucus with fewer members. However her GOP counterpart, new Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, will have added clout as a more trustworthy lieutenant for Speaker John Boehner than the defeated former Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, who did not disguise his interests in assuming the Speakership if Boehner were to fail.
Both McCarthy and Pelosi will have the choice of pooling their considerable talents to make common cause for the benefit of Californians or they may be forced to tow the party line.
For Pelosi that will mean keeping one ear open to what the White House wants even though the incumbent finds himself in a weakened position with little to lose by striking out even more boldly against his congressional opponents who have vowed to throttle any legislation he proposes.
Not only will this test the relationship between the still powerful Californian and the president she has backed at almost every turn, but it will set the stage for the run-up to the presidential race in 2016 most likely involving another person about whom Pelosi recently said at a recent Democratic gathering she would be very happy to turn over the title of “most influential woman in the U.S. government.”