President Obama’s failure to channel the anxieties of ordinary voters has shaken the faith that many Democrats once had in his political gifts and his team’s political skill.
In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises.
But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.
“There doesn’t seem to be anybody in the White House who’s got any idea what it’s like to lie awake at night worried about money and worried about things slipping away,” said retiring Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). “They’re all intellectually smart. They’ve got their numbers. But they don’t feel any of it, and I think people sense that.”
Bredesen had voiced such reservations long before the election, but more Democrats are saying the same thing after Tuesday’s defeats — although few are willing to cross the White House by doing so publicly.
Obama “is not Bill Clinton in the sense that he’s not an extrovert. He doesn’t gain energy by connecting with people,” said a Democratic strategist, who worked in the Clinton White House and asked not to be named. “He needs to be forced to do it, either by self-discipline or others. There’s no one around him who will do that. They accommodate him, and that is a bad thing.”
William A Galston, a Clinton White House policy adviser, said the midterm election revealed what had always been a “missing middle” to the Obama campaign message.
“Hope is a sentiment, not a strategy, and quickly loses credibility without a road map,” Galston wrote in a paper. “Throughout his first two years in office, Obama often struggled to connect individual initiatives to larger purposes.”
With the public sceptical of his biggest accomplishments, Obama fell back on a plea to voters not to turn back to failed Republican policies. That appeal “just missed what was happening with the country”, said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
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