From ACORN to Obamacare: The ebb and flow of Republican Obama critiques

September 2

Remember Solyndra? It was a solar company that failed in 2011 after having received loan guarantees from the government and a vocal endorsement from President Obama. To Republicans, it best epitomized the failures of the administration -- at least, until the September 11, 2012, attacks on the American facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which then best epitomized those failures. Soon after, the Healthcare.gov website rolled out with four flat tires, becoming the best epitome of Obama's policies yet.

With Obamacare fading from the campaign trail as a hot-button issue, we thought we'd go back and try to figure out how Republican critiques of Obama have shifted over the course of his presidency. We identified 12 key topics and tracked how often they were mentioned from the floor of Congress by Republicans, using the Sunlight Foundation's handy CapitolWords site.

It's hard to extrapolate from those 12 topics to a clear depiction of the GOP's focus (how do you easily identify IRS/Tea Party targeting complaints from regular IRS gripes from early in Obama's presidency, for example?), so we decided to first look at them in relation to each other. It gives a decent picture of how much each dominated the political conversation over the past almost-six years.

Critiquesv2

IRS and "illegal immigration" are perennial favorites, but the dominance of ACORN -- the non-profit unduly credited with giving Obama a 2008 electoral victory -- in the early part of his is impressive. Obamacare arrives in the middle of 2009, and dominates for most of the rest of the time. But in 2011, you can see the twin spikes of Solyndra and Fast and Furious (a botched operation run by the Department of Justice). In part, that's due to fewer overall mentions of all topics. In late 2011, Benghazi arrives, spiking again earlier this year with the release of new e-mails. Immigration became a hot topic in early 2013 as the GOP debated new policies in the wake of Mitt Romney's loss. In September and October of last year, the conversation was all, again, Obamacare.

Breaking out the mentions by month, you can see better how often the topics were raised on the floor of Congress and how each topic ebbed and flowed.

Note that the axis on those graphs change over time, making it look as though Common Core -- which surprisingly doesn't come up very often! -- has as many mentions as, say, the IRS. If we use the same scale for each, it becomes clear how dominant Obamacare has been as a topic.

Capitol Words also offers a convenient bit of data: who used each term the most. Our congratulations to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who owns first place for five of the 12 topics since January 2009. Two others are owned by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), of the same state.

  • ACORN: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • Benghazi: Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)
  • Birth certificate: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • Common Core: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
  • Fast and Furious: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Illegal immigrants: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.)
  • IRS: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • New Black Panthers: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • NSA: Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.)
  • Obamacare: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • Pigford: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
  • Solyndra: Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.)
Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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