The Republicans didn’t win this midterm election cycle, although they made some smart decisions to avoid losing it. The president and his team lost it — and they lost it because President Obama became toxic to swing voters and uninspiring to a huge chunk of his party’s base. Looking back, here are the top 10 blunders of the Obama administration that helped to steer the midterms to the GOP:
10) The ObamaCare roll-out disaster: For such a tech-savvy White House, the bungling of the healthcare reform website was shocking, and a sign of things to come for a controversial law that never recovered from its initial missteps.
8) Obama’s pen and phone: At the beginning of the year, the president suggested he was going to go around Congress, simultaneously raising expectations about his actions and lowering hopes for any progress on the legislative front.
7) The Ukrainian crisis: Not unlike former President Carter’s ineffectual response to the Soviet invasion of the Afghanistan in 1979, Obama looked weak when Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and threatened to seize the rest of the Ukraine, piece by piece.
6) Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform: The president promised several times over the past year that he would take executive action on immigration, only to pull the football away at the last moment. His inaction demoralized Hispanic voters while stoking conspiracy theories on the right about what he was going to do after the election. The border surge only made the situation worse.
5) ISIS and ‘Golf-gate’: Directly after making a comment about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) execution of journalist James Foley, the president headed to the golf course. For that, he was justly criticized for being disengaged and unserious. His comment that he didn’t have a strategy to deal with the nascent terrorist group further cemented his reputation as a bumbler who didn’t know what he was doing.
4) Holder to Ferguson: The president implicitly picked sides by allowing his attorney general, Eric Holder, to define his position on the controversial shooting this summer in a St. Louis suburb. Either you are on the side of law and order or you aren’t, and Obama’s approval ratings have fallen precipitously since that moment.
3) Ebola: While the president is not to blame for the Ebola outbreak, his comments on the spread of the virus have proven to be inaccurate and led to the perception that he didn’t have a plan. He long resisted calls to appoint a point person to lead the effort, only to later buckle and appoint a political strategist to the position of Ebola czar. He refused to issue a travel ban from countries that had Ebola outbreaks, giving Republicans a huge political talking point.
2) Policies on the ballot: Obama told students at Northwestern University, “Make no mistake. These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” For the Democratic senators who voted with Obama and his policies 97 percent of the time, those comments were most unhelpful at a time when they least needed the reminder.
1) Telling the wrong story: The American people care about the economy. The president doesn’t have a bad story to tell when it comes to jobs, the unemployment rate, the deficit, etc. If he were Ronald Reagan, it would be the Morning in America campaign. But the strategy of the Democrats wasn’t to talk about the economy. Instead they wanted to talk about contraception, the war on women and other narrow issues. At the end, they turned to race baiting to get blacks to the polls.
This election will turn out to be a referendum on the president’s job performance. He made several critical mistakes throughout the last two years that hurt his credibility as voters lost faith in his leadership.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.