If the words of pollsters and analysts are to be believed, the current election cycle will end with the Republican Party controlling both chambers of Congress for the first time during Barack Obama’s presidency.

This sort of legislative transformation — wherein one party wins both bodies in the final years of a two-term president — is not an aberration; Democrats gained control of Congress during the last two years of both Reagan’s and Bush’s second terms. Midterms are also a sort of referendum of the current administration; from the Civil War until the turn of the century, just one midterm election (in 1934 during Roosevelt’s presidency) didn’t result in the president’s party losing seats in Congress.

Indeed, the overarching theme journalists covering the races report has been a strong anti-Obama sentiment. Dan Balz, the chief political correspondent at The Washington Post, concluded that tapping into dissatisfaction with the president “appeared to be [the Republican] party’s most important motivating factor.” More tersely, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) told The New York Times that “you can summarize [every] race by saying, ‘Obama bad.’”

The president, facing his lowest approval ratings since taking office, has not allowed the opposition to make any more connections; he’s only travelled to support one prospective candidate, Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a strong candidate running in a state that voted for President Obama in 2012. He has been smart to stay out of close races like the Senate race in Arkansas, which featured a Democratic incumbent in a red state. But there are a number of Democrats slated to lose in states that voted for Obama in 2012, such as Mark Udall of Colorado and Bruce Braley of Iowa.

This is an oversimplification, of course. Other factors, such as outside money and more seasoned Republican candidates (especially compared to those in the 2010 midterm election), have likely pushed the Senate into the GOP’s favor. Also, considering places like Colorado and Iowa “blue states” because the president won their electoral votes in 2012 says little about whether that state’s electorate would respond well to a Democratic Senate candidate.

Rather, 2012’s outcome reveals only what the electorate thought about Obama in comparison to Mitt Romney. At the end of 2013, Gallup found that the president’s approval rating was 42.3 percent in Colorado and 42.4 percent in Iowa, both below the national average of 46.5 percent at that time. The national average today is more than four percentage points lower.

So what could Obama have done to prevent the GOP from gaining control of both houses? On one hand, he’s at the mercy of the typical midterm slide, compounded by the fact that midterm voters skew whiter, older and more Republican than the electorate in presidential election years. On the other hand, Obama’s name is toxic where it would have counted most, and at this point, there’s little he can do to overcome that. There’s no fount of “leadership” the president can take from to make everything all right for the Democrats — even if such a thing existed, as some pundits would have you believe, he still wouldn’t have enough clout with the electorate to effectively wield it.

Even more than simple partisanship or the vestiges of systemic racism, the public’s negative perception of the government and its ability to function has tarnished the president’s brand. Just as Obama won the presidency in 2008 with “change,” the far right of the Republican Party now frames its distaste for the status quo in near-revolutionary terms.

The Democrats explain legislative stagnation as the result of unprecedented, hostile opposition from the GOP — lawsuits, filibuster threats, etc. And they’re right, to a point. Just as culpable for the president’s low approval ratings and decreased political influence have been the administration’s consistently reactive and hesitant policies. For example, what the president called his most important second-term policy, immigration reform, is dead in the water, with the right’s constant, blaring opposition going undisputed by Democratic messaging.

In addition to his failure to counter the right’s arguments in a substantive way, Obama has also offered little to excite, even to encourage, the youth and minority voter base that carried him in 2008 and 2012. The president’s foreign policy direction has not offered an alternative to last decade’s neoconservatism, instead languishing in a system where the Bush-era apparatuses remain, used out of convenience with nothing to replace them. Given this unrewarding lack of direction, it’s no surprise that among young likely voters, Republicans are leading.

The likely loss of Congress to the Republicans cannot be blamed on the president, of course. But he, as the nation’s most visible politician, exemplifies a Democratic policy that neither placates the right nor satisfies the left, leaving nobody — except maybe the incoming Republican representatives — happy.

Hunter MainHunter Main is a senior in the College. Left Behind appears every other Tuesday.

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