Last night’s release of the Benghazi emails has pretty much doused whatever smoldering embers remained from the Benghazi “scandal,” but the scandal “narrative” will live on, fed by serious lingering questions about IRS and Justice Department conduct. So naturally the talk has turned to how scandal-mania will impact the midterm elections.
Will they resemble 2006, when mounting Iraq casualties and Katrina eroded confidence in George W. Bush’s leadership, leading to major Dem gains? Or will they turn out more like 1998, when GOP confidence amid the Monica Lewinsky revelations led to overreach and backlash? This morning, National Journal’s Reid Wilson makes the case that 2014 will look more like 2006:
The beginning of Bush’s second term bears the most resemblance to the current predicament in which Obama finds himself. The war in Iraq had grown unpopular during 2005, and the government’s bungling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina gave voters the sense that Washington was inept. […]
The mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the various troubles Obama is answering for now are completely different types of scandals. But the message they send to voters about the aptitude of governing is remarkably similar. Once voters lost confidence in Bush’s ability to manage government, the Republican brand began to suffer…If voters begin to believe that Obama is similarly ill-equipped to govern, it will be the Democrats in Congress who bear the brunt of the political punishment.
But Chris Cillizza makes the case that Republicans risk a rerun of 1998. Note in the admission from former GOP Rep. Tom Davis, a respected party strategist:
[T]here are real concerns within the Republican establishment that their party won’t look before they leap when it comes to the right strategic path forward, taking a major political opportunity and blowing it ala the impeachment of President Clinton in the late 1990s.
“Republicans need only remember 1998 when they overplayed Monica Lewinsky and turned a promising midterm into almost losing the House,” said former Virginia congressman Tom Davis. “The Republicans have a political buffet in front of them. No need to gorge themselves….[they] need to pace themselves.”
The key thing to keep in mind is it’s an open question whether the GOP base will let Republicans “pace themselves.” As the Fix guys note, some outside Republican strategists are urging less of a focus on Benghazi and more of one on the IRS, and the collapse of the Benghazi scandal should, in theory, give weight to that case. But untold numbers of GOP base voters have now apparently been persuaded that Benghazi has ensured that the total collapse of the Obama presidency is right around the corner.
A recent survey from the automated Public Policy Polling found that 41 percent of Republicans believe Benghazi is the worst scandal in American history. So it’s unclear whether Republican officials can put the Benghazi genie back in the bottle — or whether they even want to, given the utility of using it to rev up the base for 2014. Indeed, despite the release of the emails, which clearly back up the administration’s case, Republican officials continue to call for more investigations.
It’s always possible that the scandal pile-up will undermine confidence in Obama’s leadership or feed a negative storyline about Obama and bigger, intrusive government, a point made by Karen Tumulty today. But it’s also possible that the scandals will be perceived as inside-the-Beltway noise and that voters won’t blame them on Obama or see in them any larger storylines about his leadership or vision. Indeed, a glance at Mike Allen’s Playbook suggests the narrative is already shifting: “OBAMA ACTS ON THREE FRONTS to calm storm.” And predictions that suddenly the voters will come to see Obama’s vision of government as dangerous, out of control, and radical have been made for literally years.
What’s more, for all the understandable focus on Obama’s difficulties, Republicans also face a series of difficult political dilemmas. They confront the challenge of getting immigration reform past riled up House conservatives or taking the blame for killing it. They will soon be mired in discord over whether to stage another debt limit hostage crisis, which could further underscore the sense of a party in chaos that has lost the ability to engage in basic governing. So later this summer the current scandal mania may have dissipated even as public confidence in the GOP could continue to plummet.
* RELEASED BENGHAZI EMAILS SUPPORT ADMINISTRATION CLAIMS: The Post’s overview of the email release last night gets right to the point, deflating the GOP charge of political intentions in the editing of the talking points:
The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago.
That’s pretty clear. Remember, Republicans claimed the administration would not release these emails because it may have been trying to hide a cover up.
* SUSAN RICE, EXONERATED? Also from the Post write up, there’s no evidence that Rice, in her appearances on Sunday shows, stepped outside of what the administration had decided was known at the time:
White House officials have argued that Rice was using talking points that reflected the administration consensus at that time, and the e-mails appear to support that contention.
Worth remembering that Rice’s TV appearances are what led Republicans to derail her nomination as Secretary of State.
* NEW LIGHT SHED ON CIA’S INVOLVEMENT IN TALKING POINTS: The Post also reports two other key nuggets from senior administration officials: CIA deputy director Mike Morell removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia involvement in the attacks because the assessment was classified and because revealing the name could compromise the investigation. The New York Times adds that in so doing, Morell “acted on his own.” The administration has argued all along that the editing was driven by these concerns.
Also: Morell reportedly agreed with State Department objections to including references to previous attacks — again showing the editing was mostly about getting multiple agencies on the same page. There’s just nothing here.
* DAVID PLOUFFE VERSUS THE GREEN LANTERNITES: The New York Times has a big piece that subtly mocks Obama’s claims of non-involvement in scandals and inability to force Congress to act on his agenda by noting that he is becoming something of a “bystander” in the Oval Office. That drew this rebuke to Green Lanternism from senior White House adviser David Plouffe:
“The notion that there’s some sort of easy leadership play that he hasn’t called yet that would unlock gridlock, that’s not a very sophisticated analysis.”
Yes, Green Lanternism is silly and unsophisticated. However, I agree with this Times observation: “Mr. Obama may be right about some of the things he cannot do, but he has also struggled lately to present a vision of what he can do.”
* IS MARCO RUBIO PUTTING IMMIGRATION REFORM AT RISK? Democrats are increasingly annoyed that Senator Rubio, in an effort to win over conservatives, is pushing immigration reform too far to the right, and that this could kill the bill.
As noted here the other day, the discussion about reform focuses almost entirely on what must be done to make the right happy, with little acknowledgment that you really can’t make reform much more conservative, and that trying to do so could blow up the coalition supporting it on the left.
* JOBLESS CLAIMS SPIKE AGAIN: The weekly jobless claims have surged to their highest number in a month and a half. While there’s no evidence sequestration is the reason why, ongoing economic doldrums are a reminder of what government is not doing to address the unemployment crisis, even at a time when the deficit is falling.
* A MOTIVE FOR THE BOSTON BOMBINGS: CBS News has it:, in the form of a note left by Dzohkhar Tsarnaev:
The note, scrawled with a pen on the interior wall of the cabin, said the bombings were retribution for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and called the Boston victims collateral damage in the same way Muslims have been in the American-led wars. “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims,” the note added.
* AND THE FALSE GOD OF “NARRATIVE”: E.J. Dionne points out that for all the talk about the scandal trifecta creating a bad narrative about the President, the other key storyline is that the GOP’s relentless focus on the Benghazi talking points risks creating an atmosphere of “political carnival.” More grist for the 1998 theory of the 2014 midterms.