Ever since Beltway scandal-mania broke out, Republicans have struggled over how openly to acknowledge that pursuing the various scandals is all about weakening President Obama. This has created some comically contradictory messaging.

House GOP investigations chief Darrell Issa recently insisted that the scandals are not “about President Obama,” claiming Republicans are “not accusing the president” of anything yet. At the same time, though, Mitch McConnell has released a web video tying Obama himself directly to Nixon, and multiple Republicans keep blaming the scandals on an alleged “culture of intimidation” that flows directly from the top.

The contradiction highlights what appears to be genuine worry among Republicans about overreaching in their efforts to use these scandals to attack the President, risking a voter backlash similar to the one Republican suffered in the 1998 midterms.

But don’t take my word for it. In a must-read in the New York Times today, Republican officials confirm this to be the case. They warn the GOP against attacking Obama too directly, given his high favorability ratings, and openly worry about a rerun of the 1990s:

“I don’t think I’d personalize it,” said John Linder, the former congressman from Georgia who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee during the late 1990s while Newt Gingrich and House Republicans were preparing an impeachment case against President Bill Clinton. Mr. Linder said he fought and lost a battle with Mr. Gingrich over their strategy in the 1998 midterm elections, which Mr. Gingrich thought should be focused on assailing Mr. Clinton’s character.

“I didn’t want to talk about Clinton at all,” Mr. Linder recalled, saying the same logic should apply today. “Obama was not in the Justice Department. Obama was not working in the I.R.S.” His advice? “Don’t overreach,” he said.

In the fall of 1998, Republicans poured tens of millions of dollars into a television ad campaign with slogans like “Honesty does matter,” a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Clinton’s duplicity about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. They lost big that year, and it marked the first time since 1822 that the party that held the White House gained seats in the House of Representatives during a second term.

And look at what former Senator Olympia Snowe has to say:

“They have to have the ability to understand that the American people want more than just negativity about President Obama,” said Olympia J. Snowe, the Republican former senator from Maine, who has just written a book on bridging the country’s partisan divide. “If you can’t make that important pivot to what Republicans stand for and how they’ve gotten the message, I think there will be even more damage to the Republican Party.”

The problem, of course, is that Republicans are also committed to pursuing these scandals — and attacking Obama directly over them — as part of a deliberate strategy to whip up the base for 2014. They are tethered to a midterm strategy centered on attacking Obamacare implementation problems and hyping Beltway scandals in order to create a sinister narrative of Obama/Dem Big Government Overreach. Yet as Snowe notes, focusing only on “negativity about President Obama” is getting in the way of the GOP’s need to develop an affirmative agenda of its own.

There is no sign any of this will change. And all of this could be unfolding next year even as Obama implementation actually ends up falling short of the disaster Republicans are hoping for — millions of voters could actually appreciate the fact that they can now get insurance — and more to the point, even as the economy accelerates. And that brings us to our next item.

* YUP: IMPROVING ECONOMY COULD SHIFT LANDSCAPE IN 2014: Yesterday I suggested that the improving economy could help Dems in the 2014 elections, and today Politico weighs in with a big reported piece in which economists and operatives conclude the same. This is important:

“I really don’t think the austerity message is going to resonate this time,  given what we have seen in terms of deficit reduction,” said Roger Altman,  founder of investment bank Evercore Partners and a deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton. “I’d rather have the Democratic side of that argument  right now.”

It’s possible we’ll be heading into 2014 with the deficit falling and the economy improving markedly — with Republican candidates calling for more spending cuts and fulminating about Obamacare and fake scandals.

* SENATOR MARK PRYOR ON DEFENSE OVER GUNS: The Arkansas Democrat has released a new ad hitting back at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ads pillorying him for voting against Manchin-Toomey. The ad, which pointedly declares he voted against “President Obama’s gun control legislation,” relies on the idiotic talking point that Obama’s plan wouldn’t have prevented Newtown and other shootings (tellingly, he doesn’t mention Virginia Tech). And it hints — falsely — that expanding background checks infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Presumably Pryor thinks attacking Obama and Bloomberg will help him in Arkansas. But the fact that he needs to put the focus on them while actively misleading about the actual proposal he voted against tells you all you need to know about how much of a no-brainer it is, even in Arkansas.

* OBAMA TO PUSH CONGRESS ON STUDENT LOANS: Today the President will hold an event calling on Congress to extend student loan rates, reprising a battle with Republicans the last time the deadline for the expiring rates came up. House Republicans — who are aware of the need to improve the party’s standing with young voters — have put forth their own plan, but the White House says it doesn’t go far enough, and it looks likely that Obama will again challenge Republicans to support his plan in the sort of brinkmanship we saw last time, and in the payroll tax cut fight.

* MAJORITY SUPPORT FOR PATH TO CITIZENSHIP: A new Quinnipiac poll finds, as others have, that a majority (54 percent) supports a path to citizenship. Meanwhile, 29 percent support deportation, and only 12 percent support allowing illegal immigrants to stay while not applying for citizenship. There is no support for the second-tier legal status option that some Republicans have grabbed on to as a way to avoid supporting citizenship.

Indeed, among Republicans, only 15 percent supports the second-class legal status option — while 39 percent support citizenship and 40 percent support deportation. The choice is clear: Either Republicans must support citizenship or we’re not getting reform.

* LIBERALS INSIST ON GOOD IMMIGRATION BILL: A key dynamic to watch: Immigration advocates are questioning the Gang of Eight’s strategy of making concessions to the right in hopes of getting 70 Senate votes in favor of immigration reform, worrying that it will result in too conservative a proposal. Even if broader Senate support would make it easier to get it through the House, liberals argue that getting a good bill is more important — and that House Republicans should be dared to sink it.

* GOP GUNNING FOR FOOD STAMPS: Paul Krugman unleashes a welcome blast of genuine outrage at Republicans who are vying to drastically shrink the food stamp program, first as part of the farm bill and more broadly as part of the Paul Ryan budget, which remains the GOP’s leading fiscal blueprint.

Krugman gets the larger GOP rationale exactly right: “We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.”

* AND MITCH MCCONNELL STRETCHES FACTS ON SCANDALS: Speaking of that video released by Mitch McConnell that ties Nixon to Obama over the IRS scandal: Glenn Kessler takes a close look and finds it relies on deceptive editing to make its core point:

The McConnell campaign video takes a legitimate debate over whether the activity is illegal and turns it into the next Watergate. The full extent of the administration’s involvement in the IRS activities may not be fully known yet, but no evidence has emerged that Obama or his aides  directed the IRS to engage in illegal activities.

Not that this will stop McConnell from continuing to tie him directly to the scandal, naturally.

What else?