Republicans could waste the White House’s ‘worst weeks ever’ to a lack of strategy and rogue members of their own party
There’s something already dangerously smug about the way that the Republican Party – and the media, for that matter – have described the past two weeks as the White House’s “worst weeks ever”. There have been some exceedingly bad weeks over the past five years, including the one in April that began with the Boston Marathon bombings and ended with an earthquake in Tokyo. One can plausibly assume that all this schadenfreude about the Obama administration, done in its optics-y, win-the-news-cycle way, seems to be the only way that our political press is capable of talking about scandals.
But just because the White House has had a difficult time managing this waterfall of negative stories doesn’t mean that the Republicans on the Hill won’t drown in the torrent. The GOP is the only party, after all, that impeached a sitting president yet still came out more unpopular than the man they targeted for character assassination.
Surveying their management of the situation thus far, I’ve had a few ideas about how they might yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
1. Full-volume hysteria over every new detail makes it difficult for normal people to distinguish the issues that are actually important – within each scandal and among the scandals themselves. Republicans are not so much acting like the “boy who cried wolf” as the “boy who cried and cried and just wouldn’t stop crying”.
And the party itself seems unable to decide from which vat of scandal-tar they could do the most damage. Is it #Benghazi, which the GOP has been hyping for months (with little success)? Is it the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? That one is easy for a non-wonk to understand, but difficult to prove as having done actual harm. Maybe they should harp on the confiscation of the press’ phone records, which doesn’t sit well with civil libertarians but forces conservatives to make common cause with – gulp – the media, whom they have trained their base to instinctively distrust.
Gun-rights theologian and political cryptographer Glenn Beck thinks conservatives don’t have to choose! “I want to go back to the name of the scandals,” he said on yesterday’s program. “We have Benghazi, IRS and the AP,” correctly naming all three. “In the end, what do these three scandals have in common? What they have in common is the arrogance of transforming the world.” He has a chart.
2. Speaking of overreaching: overreaching. This is a risk that many Republicans themselves seem to be aware of! Veteran pols told the Washington Post that their compatriots on the Hill should remember, there’s “no need to gorge themselves”, and “[They] need to pace themselves.” Specifically, said another, “The area we have to avoid is not to use the ‘I’ word – impeachment.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer cautioned that discussion of impeachment – especially given that none of the scandals have direct connections to Obama, “feeds the narrative of the other side that it’s only a political event”.
3. Which GOP politicians has gleefully ignored this advice? Representative Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, who slunk away from the spotlight after her embarrassingly close re-election and until recently had hid quietly in her bunker, unable to find other Republicans willing to be seen with her. This week, she was out in front of the cameras again, not just urging impeachment but proclaiming that we should get on with the impeaching already!
“I will tell you, as I have been home in my district, in the sixth district of Minnesota, there isn’t a weekend that hasn’t gone by that someone says to me, ‘Michelle, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren’t you impeaching the president?'”
I live not too far from Bachmann’s district, and have to wonder where she spends her weekends, and why exactly her constituents aren’t more concerned about cuts in services and the lagging economy. Perhaps she’s just meeting the same constituent over and over again, since the one she quoted this week sounds a lot like the one she quoted in a 2010 interview:
“Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘Michele, can we impeach the president?'”
She may be referring to that strident voice in her head, and/or that one guy on the campaign trail who did ask her, “When will we impeach him and get him out of the way? We should be.” Maybe he moved to her district?
In any case, the more Bachmann’s wild-eyed conspiracy mongering gets attention, the more the Democratic National Committee raises money. To paraphrase “Arrested Development”: Never promise crazy an impeachment.
4. Similarly, Rep Louie Gohmert (TX) is a GOP nut just waiting to pop out of the can. He blipped into national consciousness this week for a delightful malapropism, which he made during the interrogation of Attorney General Eric Holder over the FBI investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing: He decried that Holder “will not cast aspersions on my asparagus”.
Like Bachmann, Gohmert is no stranger to the dog-whistling demographic that continually demands for the president’s impeachment and possible arrest. He whipped up opposition to Obama’s executive order that institute some limits on gun ownership by saying, “the American Revolution was all about fighting such a monarchy.” Even more recently, Gohmert asserted that the administration has ignored the threat of Muslim terrorism because:
“This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”
Gohmert also bears the distinction of being one of the few Republicans to draw a direct connection between limits on gun magazines and bestiality:
“And I pointed out, well, once you make it ten, then why would you draw the line at ten? What’s wrong with nine? Or eleven? And the problem is once you draw that limit; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman any more, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal?
There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.”
Sure, sometimes an asparagus is just an asparagus, but with the twin obsessions of violence and sex, I see a future Todd Akin in the making. By all means, put this man on television.
5. If Republicans relentlessly pound the IRS’s targeted investigation of conservative groups filing for tax exemption, they remind people that that the IRS had a reason to do so; there’s a substantial amount of evidence that certain conservative groups were, in fact, violating tax law. Republicans this week burned up the internet by pointing to a ProPublica story about the IRS being a little too generous sharing conservative groups’ information.
But the story also contained a rather significant detail: ProPublica had initially requested to learn more about a successful investigation into “how dozens of social welfare non-profits had misled the IRS about their political activity on their applications and tax returns.” So, you know, it’s difficult to claim that certain groups were unfairly targeted when some of that targeting turns out to be well-founded.
6. Last but not least, there’s the blatant hypocrisy. The Justice Department’s application of informational thumbscrews to the Associated Press is the scandal nearest and dearest to my heart, the one with which I’m most likely to side with the Republicans. It was a breach of governmental trust; it has a chilling effect on freedom of the press; and it’s a threat to the valuable role whistleblowers play in the unofficial balance of power. It’s everything the Republicans say it is! “A sweeping intrusion”! They “suggest a pattern of intimidation by the Obama Administration”! And, hey “the first amendment is first for a reason.”
And the whole thing might have been prevented by a proposed bill that would shield journalists from revealing sources, and that Republicans, including one pronounced fan of first amendment, Darrel Issa, voted against.
Certainly, hypocrisy has never stopped a politician from making accusations. You can look back to the Clinton administration and see rampant hypocrisy – actually, you don’t have to look back that far at all. But hypocrisy is perhaps the one sin that voters have trouble forgiving, especially if the original scandal has nothing to do with them.
And that’s maybe the saddest thing about the whole situation: none of these scandals tie into the concerns that voters keep expressing. Make that “concern”, as “economy and jobs” (or some variation, including “unemployment”) tops every single recent poll, aobve every other perfectly legitimate concern, such as “gun policy” and “health care”, by double digits. Remember the economy? It was the reason Mitt Romney was going to beat Obama, until the magic of his missteps diverted conversation to his personal failings and the GOP’s unrelentingly and backward social policies.
What I’m saying here is that as bad as the past couple of weeks have looked for Obama, the Republicans are playing on his court. Obama isn’t on the defensive, he’s just marking time until they make a mistake. They probably already have.