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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brownstein: How ‘Scandals’ May Backfire on GOP

It’s quite possible, writes Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal, that the Benghazi and I.R.S. ‘scandals,’ along with the Administration’s seizure of journalists’ phone records may serve the GOP cause of tying up Washington in investigations. But it’s equally likely that any advantage they gain will be overshadowed by the difficulties the Republicans will cause within their own party. Brownstein notes how this happened in the Clinton and other adminstrations and explains further:

…President Obama may not prove to be the only one hurt by the eruption of controversies around the Benghazi attack, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records.
…Examining such questions is a necessary congressional function. But in our polarized era, oversight often becomes a partisan cudgel. And that process, which is already infecting the Benghazi inquiry, could bruise not only Obama but the Republicans driving the investigations as well.
These confrontations’ most predictable effect will be to enrage the GOP base, which will strengthen the party factions most dubious about any compromises with Obama. In that way, these storms will likely weaken not only the president but also Republicans who believe the party must reboot to restore its competitiveness for the White House. “The base of the party is going to go ballistic on this, particularly the IRS [issue],” says Tom Davis, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It makes it harder for [GOP legislators] to go along with Obama on things in general.”
…Even before these disclosures, congressional Republicans had dramatically escalated their resistance to Obama’s second term. While the House is voting yet again this week to repeal the president’s health care law, Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of Obama’s nominees for Labor secretary and Environmental Protection Agency administrator. As in Clinton’s era, the approaching cycle of investigation, media leak, and hearing-room confrontation over the IRS and Benghazi will deepen a sense of unstinting partisan conflict that will further narrow the space for serious legislative negotiations.

But the polarization is even worse now, owing to Obama derangement syndrome and tea party hubris. Brownstein adds:

Davis, now director of federal affairs at the Deloitte consulting firm, says one critical difference from the Clinton years is that many GOP leaders still consider deals with Obama on immigration and the debt ceiling to be in the party’s self-interest. But to the extent Republicans believe scandal is bloodying Obama (and thus Democrats for 2014 and 2016), party leaders will face greater pressure not to buttress him with any policy agreements…

Prospects for any legislative reforms are seriously imperiled, Brownstein believes, and that hurts Obama’s legacy prospects. However, concludes Brownstein, “Yet such a breakdown would also endanger the GOP’s need to expand its unsustainably narrow electoral coalition. Republicans could find that stoking the flames of scandal may sear not only Obama’s hopes but also their own.”

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