Will Republicans Screw Up Again? Some Are Already Overreaching
"Some Republicans are so excited at the thought of multiple controversies dogging the White House over the next few months (or longer) that they are already foaming at the mouth.
For example, on his syndicated radio show late last week, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee compared reports of the IRS targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to what happened in Nazi Germany.
And, of course, you knew that some conservatives and Republicans (such as Glenn Beck, Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann) couldn’t resist mentioning the “I” word — impeachment — almost immediately as they struggled to show their anger and contempt for President Barack Obama and his administration.
But Republicans ought to remember that they have seen this movie before, and the ending was not what they hoped for or expected.
There’s no doubt that the three controversies — Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press — play into the GOP’s hand by raising questions about “big government.” They give Republicans an opportunity to challenge the administration’s truthfulness and to argue for a check on the president during his final years in office.
While the president hasn’t been implicated directly, that certainly doesn’t eliminate the political risk for the White House or for Democrats over the next few month or possibly all the way to next year’s midterm elections.
But let’s not forget: Republicans failed to capitalize on President Bill Clinton’s inappropriate conduct by over-playing their hand and pushing impeachment. Not only did they fail to drive him from office, the GOP ended up losing a handful of House seats in the 1998 midterms instead of adding seats as initially expected.
Republicans allowed themselves to look as if they were primarily interested in scoring political points and overturning the results of the 1996 election, even if it meant paralyzing the government.
That same danger exists once again for the GOP.
With fundraising playing such a huge part in our politics, some conservative groups will be tempted to use the trifecta of controversies to play to their bases to boost anger and fundraising.
This, in turn, will make the issues appear more and more partisan, giving the president the same opportunity that Clinton used when he sought to rise above “politics” and called for members of both parties to address public policy challenges.
Of course, there are differences between 1998 and 2013.
Though Clinton undoubtedly lied about his behavior and besmirched his office, he was caught in a personal scandal. As we have seen repeatedly, while personal scandals provide fodder for late-night comedians and social commentators, voters seem willing to overlook them. Just ask current South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford.
Obama’s problems certainly haven’t yet been laid at his doorstep, and there’s no reason to believe that he was directly responsible for the controversies in the ways that Clinton and then-Gov. Sanford were. But the current controversies go to the heart of how government operates and how it communicates with its people, raising more fundamental questions than the Clinton and Sanford personal scandals did.
In other words, voters easily understand the notion of individual weakness — and redemption. But they have a much harder time accepting government mistakes and misjudgments.
If Sunday’s TV appearances by big-name Republicans are any indication, party leaders have decided to use a “culture of cover-ups and political intimidation” argument to link recent controversies and put them in a far broader context, making it easier to link them to the White House. Columnist George Will even identified potential fourth and fifth scandals in his May 16 column, “Obama’s Tapped-Out Trust.”
Democrats used the same strategy during President George W. Bush’s second term — and only a slightly different phrase, “culture of corruption” — during their effort to regain the House in 2006. Winning 30 seats and the majority showed that they were successful.
Obviously, the great danger now for the president and his party is that one of the existing controversies expands dramatically or even that another controversy emerges that fits neatly into the GOP’s storyline. While the just-released CNN poll doesn’t show the president has been hurt by the controversies, those findings shouldn’t lull Democrats into a sense of security. They already have reason to worry about candidate recruitment.
Republicans certainly can continue to raise questions about the administration’s behavior, but they would improve their prospects if they can use those controversies to raise questions about the Obama team’s performance and goals.
The White House, on the other hand, must hope that Democrats can portray Republicans as placing a higher priority on embarrassing the president than on dealing with the day-to-day concerns of real people. For Obama, a foreign policy crisis might even be just what the doctor ordered."
From the National Journal:
OFF TO THE RACES
Republicans’ Hatred of Obama Blinds Them to Public Disinterest in Scandals by Charlie Cook
Republicans are so focused on their bitter battles against Obama, they can’t see how little impact the “scandals” have had on public opinion.
"Red-faced Republicans, circling and preparing to pounce on a second-term Democratic president they loathe, do not respect, and certainly do not fear. Sound familiar? Perhaps reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s second term, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke? During that time, Republicans became so consumed by their hatred of Clinton and their conviction that this event would bring him down that they convinced themselves the rest of the country was just as outraged by his behavior as they were. By the way, what was Clinton’s lowest Gallup job-approval rating in his second term, throughout the travails of investigations and impeachment? It was 53 percent. The conservative echo machine had worked itself into such a frenzy, the GOP didn’t realize that the outrage was largely confined to the ranks of those who never voted for Clinton anyway.
These days, the country is even more polarized, and the conservative echo chamber is louder than ever before. Many conservatives made it all the way to Election Day last November unaware that their White House nominee was falling short. How could Mitt Romney possibly lose when everyone they knew was voting for him? Except that he did lose, and it wasn’t even a very close race. Five other post-World War II presidential elections had closer outcomes.
The simple fact is that although the Republican sharks are circling, at least so far, there isn’t a trace of blood in the water. A new CNN/ORC survey of 923 Americans this past Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, pegged Obama’s job-approval rating at 53 percent, up a statistically insignificant 2 points since their last poll, April 5-7, which was taken before the Benghazi, IRS, and AP-wiretap stories came to dominate the news and congressional hearing rooms. His disapproval rating was down 2 points since that last survey.
In Gallup’s tracking poll, Obama’s average job-approval rating so far this year is 50 percent. For this past week, May 13-19, his average was 49 percent, the same as the week before. The most recent three-day moving average, through Sunday, May 19, was also 49 percent. Over the past two weeks, even as these three stories/scandals have dominated the news, they have had precisely zero effect on the president’s job-approval numbers. His ratings are still bouncing around in the same narrow range they have been for weeks.
Maybe that will change. Maybe these allegations will start getting traction with voters. But it might just be that Americans are more focused on an economy that is gradually coming out of the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Most economists say the current quarter will show a slowdown in economic growth from the first quarter’s 2.5 percent pace, but they expect the economy to be stronger in the second half of this year. People may be encouraged by housing prices rising and the stock market setting record highs—and their retirement accounts may actually be looking better. The University of Michigan’s widely watched Consumer Sentiment Index is at the highest level since 2007, before the recession. The Conference Board’s more volatile Consumer Confidence Index is also generally moving up, although it isn’t at the record level of the Michigan index. The National Federation of Independent Business’s Index of Small Business Optimism, which took a deep plunge after the election, increased last month and is on an upward trend since the beginning of the year. Maybe the people and businesses polled have written off Washington as a political cesspool, and so these stories don’t affect them much. Perhaps they see this town as a place that can’t seem to get anything right.
One wonders how long Republicans are going to bark up this tree, perhaps the wrong tree, while they ignore their own party’s problems, which were shown to be profound in the most recent elections. Clearly none of these recent issues has had a real impact on voters yet. Republicans seem to be betting everything on them, just as they did in 1998—about which even Newt Gingrich (who was House speaker that year) commented recently to NPR, “I think we overreached in ’98.”
Republicans and conservatives who are so consumed by these “scandals” should ask themselves why, despite wall-to-wall media attention and the constant focus inside the Beltway—some are even talking about grounds for impeachment—Obama’s job-approval needle hasn’t moved. The CNN/ORC poll suggests that people are aware of and watching the news, but they aren’t reacting, at least not yet. Clearly Republicans hope the public will begin to respond. But at what point do they decide that maybe voters might be more interested in other issues or worries than about politicians on one side pointing fingers and throwing allegations at those on the other side? At what point might the GOP conclude that it is just digging the hole a little deeper?"
This article appears in the May 21, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily as Blind Rage.