For well over an hour on Wednesday, President Obama refused to give a roomful of reporters the quote they wanted most: A self-flagellating soundbite, succinctly describing his view on the drubbing Democrats took at the polls on Tuesday.
In 2006, President George W. Bush called the wave that swept the GOP out of congressional power a "thumpin'." Four years later, Obama said Democrats got "shellacked" when Republicans recaptured the House.
On Wednesday, however, the president rhetorically threw up his hands. "Obviously, Republicans had a good night," was all Obama would allow. "And they deserve credit for running good campaigns. Beyond that, I'll leave it to all of you and the professional pundits to pick through yesterday's results."
To most Republicans and even a good number of Democrats, Obama has been throwing up his hands for much of his second term. Facing a recalcitrant GOP majority in the House, the president's strategy of using his "pen and his phone" to go around Congress was, to his critics, just a euphemism for disengagement. And by voting so demonstrably against Democrats on Tuesday, the electorate seemed to agree.
Obama tried to suggest he got the message. "As president, I have a unique responsibility to try and make this town work," he said. But he quickly pivoted to a line that seemed, ever so subtly, to downplay the results. He said he heard the voices both of those voted and of "the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process."