By Brent Budowsky - 07/16/14 07:43 PM EDT
Rarely do a man, moment, mission and election come together as perfectly as the opportunity for Bill Clinton to save the Democratic Party in the 2014 midterm elections.
Similarly for Democrats, there is an urgent need for President Obama to clearly understand the damage he is doing to his party — and to his presidency — and to consciously step back from media overexposure that hands Republicans a lethal weapon in the midterms.
Voters are angry, appalled and depressed about politics in Washington. Disapproval of Congress is the highest in history. Polling summaries from Real Clear Politics reveal the favorability rating for Congress is near a disastrous 13 percent. By contrast, approval for Clinton is at 63 percent to 64 percent in recent polling from Gallup and ABC/The Washington Post, and Gallup finds Clinton is the most popular living former president.
Think about it: Public approval of Clinton is a stunning 50 points higher than that of congressional Republicans running in 2014. If the campaign is framed as the hugely popular Clinton championing Democrats against the hugely unpopular Republicans in Washington, Democrats can win a dramatic upset victory.
The 2014 midterms could resemble the 1998 midterms, when Republicans in full-throated fanatical attack against a Democratic president were bitterly disappointed. In this scenario, Democrats in 2014 would maintain control of the Senate and gain 5 seats or more in the House. This would give a revived Obama potential working majorities in the Senate and House on legacy issues, including immigration reform, a dramatic Rebuild America jobs program and pay equity for women.
Obama should study former President Reagan’s relations with Congress at the time I began working with House Democratic leaders under Speaker Tip O’Neill, when Reagan created working majorities of Republicans and conservative “boll weevil” Democrats. And he would be wise to consult James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, who masterminded this legislative coalition.
If Democrats keep the Senate and gain 5 or more House seats in 2014, Obama could seek new working majorities, bipartisan coalitions and grand bargains to rejuvenate his presidency in the final two years of his second term.
The smart move for Democrats in 2014 would be for the hugely popular Bill Clinton to campaign boldly, and the widely unpopular Obama to step back and minimize his omnipresent saturation on television.
In 2014, Clinton could be the Democrats’ 800-pound gorilla, saving them from a potential election disaster, while Obama is the Democrats’ 800-ton albatross, destroying them in states and districts where he is widely reviled.
Obama must demonstrate an unprecedented modesty and brutally cold understanding of his own self-interest. He must stop his needless and gratuitous staged “events” that are destructive to Democrats desperately struggling to escape the undertow of his unpopularity.
Americans do not want to know and Democrats do not want to discuss whether the president plays pool, drinks beer, is offered a marijuana joint or prefers the company of intellectuals to politicians he disdains.
Fall 2014 should be a Bill Clinton moment. He is the happy warrior of American politics, a reminder of a Democratic presidency when jobs were plentiful and the economy was strong and things got done in Washington. Clinton is a reminder of how Democrats rise above the GOP politics of personal attacks and do-nothing obstruction and why voters should stand with Democrats when they do.
Clinton is the hugely popular voice to credit Obama for an economy that is improving — an economy that would improve even more if Republicans who oppose programs to create jobs and economic equality are defeated again.
Clinton is the ultimate voice to praise Democrats and confront partisan and vindictive Republicans who tried to sue and impeach him, too, for things voters fondly remember in happier days they wish were here again.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.