Recap of JOL Midterm Election Panel

On Monday, November 10, the Journal on Legislation hosted Professor Steve Ansolabehere (a Harvard government professor who consulted this year with CBS News on its election night coverage specializes in electoral politics, public opinion, and media) and Professor Elaine Kamarck (a Kennedy School professor and former White House senior staffer who created the National Performance Review, the largest government reform effort in the last half of the twentieth century, focuses on government efficiency and policy implementation). Moderated by JOL Membership Development Co-Chair Will Burgess, the panel discussed implications from the previous week’s elections and the political climate going forward to 2016. Here’s a quick recap of some of the panelist’s insights:

Where are we at now following last week’s elections?

Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Dems knew this year would be tough, but didn’t expect the margins to be so high
  • Going forward, Republicans need in roads into young voters and people of color
  • Where will “Regular order” (ie recall everything you learned in high school civics about how a bill becomes a law) be reinstated? Yes – Trade and tax policy; No – Immigration, Healthcare
  • Even with the election victories, Republicans can’t shut down the government again
  • A current interesting legal question – how far can Obama go on executive actions? – Courts are quick to throw them out (example: Clinton on striker replacement)

Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • Next senate race will be hard for Republicans
  • GOP has problem in electoral college (only one state they can rely – TX) vs Dems (CA, NY, IL, MI, PA)
  • Sixth year of presidency is usually a really bad midterm (and this year actually wasn’t as bad as others in the past)
  • Administration is and will continue pushing ahead on climate rulings and immigration which will hurt Dems in states like MT

Question: Biggest mistake made? Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • Biggest mistake the GOP can make is to leave immigration alone – need to show progress

Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • GOP’s biggest mistake would be to revert back to 2010 in control over their own party: a study of 1,663 primary candidates showed that the Tea Party did less well than business-establishment candidates (the GOP mobilized moderate candidates to combat the Tea Party, especially in Senate races). But, they did that at enormous costs.
  • Each party has its “wing nuts” – GOP managed to clamp down on them now and can’t let up
  • “Politics is like high school – you are who you hang out with” (Example: Romney in 2012 association with wing nut people he nominated)

Question: What are people really upset about? Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Recovery coming out of the coasts – incomes are stagnating; both Dems and Republicans needs to get the message

Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • People are mad because Obama hasn’t prosecuted anyone related to the financial crisis, neither party is running on that either

Question: 4 states passed minimum wage increases and Republicans – where is the economic message from Dems? Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Obama’s first economic team was from Wall Street and the financial sector (which doesn’t create jobs!)
  • Neither party has come to grips with the real implications of the financial sector (GOP’s message is “big biz”, the Dems is “Dems like jobs but not employers”)
  • Both parties have a hard time coping with the reality of the new information economy (ie Silicon Valley – also not much of a job creator but a wealth creator)

Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • Dems erred in trying to make all campaigns localized – missed opportunity
  • Administration didn’t really show leadership when people were nervous over ISIS and ebola which nudged last min on the fence voters the other way

Question: Relationship between Congressional Dems and the President – incentive for Dems to be similarly obstructive to Reps in light of Obama? Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Congressional Dems and the President’s relationship is really bad – Harry Reed’s Congressional staff said the President cost them the Senate
  • Obama has had no interaction with Republican or Democratic senate (Congressmen say “they don’t tell us anything”)
  • This next election will be on “competence” – Obama has not been competent to run big federal government nor Congress (compare with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich – there was not an absolute wall of no communication)
  • President seems unable to learn (first thing after election says I would love to have immigration bill but I’m going to go ahead regardless ) – Obama’s “inability to engage” in a way that other presidents have been able to
  • This is not a parliamentary democracy, you have to be engaged with Congress

Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • This administration has exerted executive authority to a much greater extent than any other (especially with regard to foreign affairs), Congress has exerted no control
  • Next administration is going to inherit a lot of power and Congress is going to be weak (Reed didn’t help it by changing the filibuster)

Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Case to me bade that Congress itself is getting weaker and weaker – oversight ability has pretty much vanished
  • Half of Congressional staffers are in the districts versus on the hill – most are temporary, don’t have any internal memory and much younger average age

Question: How should each party approach Obamacare? Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • If SCOTUS reverses, GOP is in a great position to say they wanted an incremental approach all along
  • Roberts could evoke this “equal treatment of the states” doctrine he has been developing

Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Obama administration did not anticipate so many federally run exchanges
  • How does it work out constitutionally to differentiate between states with state-run exchanges and those with federally run exchanges? (when all of the subsidies are federal)

Question: Would someone like Liz Warren have an easier time running with economic message? Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Warren’s message is right on, don’t know about her as a messenger – even people who are sympathetic recoil
  • Tagged with broad anti-business stance of the Dems, someone else may pick up that argument that doesn’t carry the perceptional baggage

Prof. Steve Ansolabehere

  • Dems don’t have a deep team to challenge Hilary Clinton, Liz Warren is pretty much the only one to carry through a primary

Question: PR problem with the Dem party; is the party floundering when it comes to rhetoric? Prof. Elaine Kamarck

  • Beyond rhetoric, it’s a substantive problem – Dems don’t have a set of policies that speak to this economy (great one for the economy of 50 years ago)
  • Until they do Dems are going to be perceived as “out of it”

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