In 2018, Moderate Dems Will Run Away From President Obama! Oh, Wait ...

By
Claire McCaskill
Democratic senators like Claire McCaskill may be reacting to the policies of the president in 2018, but it won't be Barack Obama.Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Despite an election cycle in which most of the intra-party fireworks are on the Republican side of the partisan barricades, there’s always room in the Beltway for a vintage "Democrats in Disarray" piece, typically about party leaders alienating either the angry left or the fearful center. So it’s no surprise that Politico’s Burgess Everett and Lauren French got a load of the president’s speech on guns and went running to whatever red-state Democrats they could find for expressions of disagreement, to be combined with Republicans’ gloating predictions of electoral catastrophe for donkeys in hostile territory. Eventually they expand the issues on which Obama is sacrificing the careers of "moderates" beyond guns to Iran and climate change.

But what makes the Everett-French essay distinctive is that it principally focuses on members of Congress running for reelection not this year but in 2018:

While a small number of House moderates like Reps. Gwen Graham of Florida and Brad Ashford of Nebraska will be on the ballot alongside Democrats’ presidential nominee, likely Hillary Clinton, this fall, the far more troubling election for Democrats will occur in 2018. In that midterm, five Senate Democrats will be up for reelection in strongly conservative states from Indiana to Montana to West Virginia.

Some of the party’s more conservative members already have a strategy to distance themselves from the president.

That’s interesting because they have no way of knowing the exact identity of “the president” when they are running in 2018. The one thing they do know is that it will not be the man who is making policy on guns and Iran and climate change right now.  

If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is elected president this year then the 2018 midterms will in all likelihood revolve around public perceptions of her or his initial time in office. Perhaps today’s alleged liberal/moderate tensions, such as they are, will persist or intensify, but we won’t know until we get a glimpse of the next Democratic presidency. It’s unlikely the whole hep political world will still be debating Obama’s executive orders from early 2016 or months and years earlier. And if a Republican president is elected, the right question to ask about 2018 is probably going to be how Republicans negotiate the very likely public backlash to the new national management (there almost always is one by the first midterm), particularly since the GOP’s presidential candidates are mainly arguing over how many decades back they should go in revoking liberal policies. 

In this light, you have to wonder if Everett and French have been listening to the lurid right-wing conspiracy theories about Obama’s next executive order being the suspension of the 2016 elections and self-appointment as president-for-life — or perhaps global caliph. In that case, of course, we probably won’t be talking about midterms, or any kind of opposition to the Islamic Socialist Atheist Feminist Transgender Party. So maybe analysis of the terrible disarray facing Democrats in 2018 should be put on hold for just a bit.