Barack Obama wanted to be the Democrats' Ronald Reagan. Instead, he is leaving office more like the Democrats' Jerry Ford: personally popular but with his party defeated, divided, and in despair. Democrats on Obama's watch have, like Republicans after Ford, dropped to historically low numbers of congressmen, governors, and state legislators. The Democratic party today has less direct influence on American government at all levels than at any time since Reconstruction. On the surface, that looks like a pretty awful political legacy.
But recall that Reagan and Republican renewal came just four years after Ford's 1976 defeat. The seeds for that renewal were present for all who had eyes to see. Those seeds, coupled with an inexperienced Democratic president who could not meet the demands of his office and a series of economic and international crises that would have tested even the most skilled statesman, did not take long to bear fruit.