Democrats are now sifting through the rubble of what was their party on election night, examining losses—and even near losses—that seemed fairly inconceivable just a couple of weeks ago. Such epically bad nights rarely have a single cause, and this one was no different. But some factors weighed more heavily than others.

No truer words were ever spoken then when President Obama told a Northwestern University audience last month, "I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle's pretty happy about that. But make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot, every single one of them." Civics and political-science textbooks have long told us that midterm elections are usually a referendum on the incumbent president and his party. Yet every time a midterm election comes up, there seems to be a certain amount of denial that occurs, though wishful thinking is probably a more accurate term. The "out" party wants a nationalized election, while the "in" party expresses complete confidence that it can effectively "localize" the elections instead.

However, to the extent that elections are about any single issue,

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