In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama won 365 electoral college votes. He pulled this political feat off thanks to the Obama Coalition–a motley crew of Democratic faithful, independents, fired up progressives, disillusioned Republicans. Obama talked a good talk on the campaign trail; he spoke of moving on from the Bush legacy; he spoke of a new American attitude to power worldwide, one infected by a moral sensibility. The same passion which would be visible in the Bernie Sanders campaign of the 2016 election season was visible in the Obama campaign: young folks signed up in droves, disaffected and cynical older radicals, impressed by the passion and energy of the ‘young’ Obama, did so too. Obama came to power with majorities in the House and Senate; the way was clear for him to implement the vision of the Dream he had sold to the American people. (It is worth remembering that Obama could once call on 58 Senators and two Independents who caucused with the Democrats.)
Shortly after the inauguration, the Democratic Party and the Obama administration decided they would and could do without their ‘progressive base’–that they would, instead, negotiate with intransigent Republicans, making concessions that had not yet become sticking points for their political opponents; they decided their ‘base’ was too ‘shrill,’ too ‘radical,’; they decided to tack to the ‘center’ instead, that same political destination which has long served as an excuse for the Democratic Party to not do its job and listen to its constituents. There would be no closing of Guantanamo Bay; bankers would not be prosecuted; nor would torturers; there would be no public option in the national healthcare plan; and so on. The Republican Party and the Tea Party stuck to their playbook and nurtured their ‘base’; the Democratic Party could not be bothered.
Predictably, there was depressed turnout in the 2010 elections; the Coalition had fallen apart. There would be no getting out the vote; no inspirational platform to get behind. Just more of the same.
Republicans regained control of the chamber they had lost in the 2006 midterm elections, picking up a net total of 63 seats and erasing the gains Democrats made in 2006 and 2008. Although the sitting U.S. President’s party usually loses seats in a midterm election, the 2010 election resulted in the highest loss of a party in a House midterm election since 1938, and the largest House swing since 1948.
Republicans won four seats held by retiring Democrats and Republicans defeated two incumbent Democrats, for a total gain of six seats. This was the largest number of Republicans gains since the 1994 elections and also the first time since that election that Republicans successfully defended all of their own seats.
In 2016, the lessons to be learned had not been: a deeply flawed ‘non-change’ candidate was nominated, one who could not command the vote of a post-Bush nation eight years previously; the passion and fervor of a progressive coalition was ignored; inspiration was discarded in favor of triangulation.
The first time as farce; the second time as tragedy.