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Mark Shields: Political Parties’ Lack of Vision the Tragic Final Return of Election 2014

Over the past 85 years, there have been just two Republican presidents who were unbeatable on Election Day and as popular at the end of their two White House terms — both with 65 percent favorable job ratings in the Gallup poll — as they were at the outset: Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Ending 20 years of Democratic control of the White House in 1952, Ike won back-to-back landslide victories. “The Gipper” carried 44 states in 1980 and 49 states in 1984. Yet neither of these GOP giants would ever come close to working with a House of Representatives in which Republicans could control 250 of the 435 seats. No, that remarkable day will only dawn early in the seventh year of the presidency of a Democrat, Barack Obama, when there will be more House Republicans than there have been since Herbert Hoover beat Al Smith in 1928.

How bad have the past six years been for Democratic candidates? In 2009, after Obama’s historic victory, there were 256 Democrats in the House and 60 Democrats in the Senate. Next January, those Democratic numbers will be down, probably to 185 in the House and possibly to only 45 in the Senate. On Election Day in West Virginia, a state Bill Clinton easily carried twice, Obama, according to exit polls of actual voters, had a favorable job rating of 24 percent and an unfavorable of 75 percent. Not surprisingly, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito became the first Republican West Virginians had elected to the Senate since 1956 (Ike’s re-election).

It’s true that the 2014 Republican themeless campaign consisted almost entirely of something to the effect of a) Obama is bad and b) this admitted Democrat (fill in the name) has forgotten the good souls of (fill in the name of the state) and voted with Obama at least 99 percent of the time. And when 3 in 5 voters say they are dissatisfied or even angry with an administration, the president can become a political albatross for his party’s already wobbly candidates.

The nation’s voters, by a 2-1 margin, believe that the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy, and nearly half fear that life for the next generation of Americans will be worse than today. Yet where was the Democrats’ message — their coherent ideas for dealing with increasing wealth and income inequality and with the curse of wage stagnation? Raising the minimum wage, though helpful, is not a policy to inspire and energize people.

But isn’t demography destiny? Aren’t Republicans doomed because of their unenlightened positions on important social issues? For an answer, look to the Texas gubernatorial race, in which the nation’s most celebrated abortion rights candidate, Democrat Wendy Davis, was opposed by the state’s Republican attorney general, Greg Abbott, who was on record opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.

Admittedly, Texas is a Republican state, but Abbott won 54 percent of the female vote. In the Kentucky U.S. Senate race — in which Republican leader Mitch McConnell had the all-out support of National Right to Life and the Democrat, Alison Lundergan Grimes, was endorsed by pro-choice groups, including Planned Parenthood — the majority of female voters backed McConnell.

The United States now has two minority parties. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are woefully short of fresh thinking. Both run almost entirely against the perceived and actual defects of the other. It may be a route to the defeat of your opponent, but sadly, for the nation, it offers no agreed-upon course of public action or vision for the future. That remains the tragic final return of election 2014.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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