Midterm elections are the political equivalent of a gas pedal or a brake pedal.
This will be a brake-pedal election, centered on competency and trust — from the launch (disastrously) of the healthcare.gov website, to telling Americans (incorrectly) that if they like their health-care policy they can keep it, to not caring for veterans, the growth of ISIS and the handling (or, more appropriately, mishandling) of the Ebola crisis.
George W. Bush went to war in 2002; he got a gas pedal, and Republicans gained seats in Congress. In 2006, the war was going badly; Bush got a brake pedal. In 2010, Barack Obama finished ObamaCare and got a brake pedal.
This year, President Obama has done nothing to slow the car.
Democrats could have held on to their Senate majority this year, but the president never tried to help them. Aside from raising money — swooping in on Air Force One to a glitzy home or hotel, and speaking to an adoring crowd of intellectuals who hang on his every word — he has remained completely indifferent.
You can see it in how he has handled immigration (saying he will not act until after the election) or outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder (saying he will not pick a successor until after the election). He is like a flashing red signal, warning that he will do something people won’t like, right after they vote.
Democrats are in trouble because Obama has done too much that people didn’t like — namely, ObamaCare.
If he had handled other things better, Republicans still would be campaigning on ObamaCare; in fact, it remains the No. 1 vote-driver, although Republicans haven’t mentioned it in TV ads for months.
What Democrats needed and what voters, even many full-throated Obama supporters, have craved was a humble moment from the commander in chief.
But a chastened Obama has never existed.
Obama has never had that moment of walking to the podium and telling the public, "I hear you." We’ve seen that with immigration, with ISIS, with Eric Holder and, now, with the risks of an Ebola outbreak in this country.
There is no question that ObamaCare is driving this year’s election. What analysts miss is that Obama has continued to demonstrate that the disastrous rollout of and subsequent problems with ObamaCare were not flukes.
He could have put a tourniquet on his political problems if he had decided to govern in a centrist way and simply told voters, "I heard you. You think I went too far. I got the message."
Instead, he has continuously demonstrated that he did not get the message and that he is going to do what he wants anyway. He has been incredibly arrogant as a leader, and dangerously indifferent to his party’s political fortunes.
You can’t govern if you can’t lead. Yet Barack Obama seemingly does not care what Democrat is defeated because of his "stuff," as long as he gets to do his "stuff."
Name one Democrat who can say they were a partner with him. They were a lever, that’s all — because governing with Obama always has been about politics and never has been a team sport.
When he declared, "We are the change you have been waiting for," what he meant was, "You are the stooges I have been waiting for to help me."
Republicans cannot win a majority in this election cycle and just walk away, however. If they do, they will be no better than the people they replace, and they will quickly lose whatever goodwill Americans feel toward them.
The smart move for Republicans would be to focus immediately on an issue important to everyone, something that makes Americans more prosperous, stable and secure, such as energy.
Not focus on a catch-phrase like "Drill, baby, drill," but focus on a comprehensive, all-of-the-above package that brings all sides together and shows Americans that Republicans can lead and can enact policies that impact the country positively.
Not focus on something that leaves people behind, demonizes the other side or creates more bureaucracy, but focus on something that shows Republicans hear people, get it, and will get things done.
Something, in other words, that Barack Obama hasn’t done.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter