Obama Scandals Are GOP Shiny Toys

by evanmcmurry

Conservative commenters are desperately holding up STOP signs to their nuttier compatriots, warning of GOP overreach in chasing the various Obama “scandals,” and reminding them of what happened the last time Republicans smelled blood in the water. To this, Ramesh Ponnuru adds some smart political context:

For the most part, Republicans didn’t campaign on impeachment in 1998: They didn’t say, “Vote for me and I’ll do my level best to oust Clinton.” Their strategy was more passive. They were counting on the scandal to motivate conservatives to vote while demoralizing liberals. So they didn’t try to devise a popular agenda, or to make their existing positions less unpopular. That’s what cost them — that, and the mistake of counting on statistics about sixth-year elections, which also bred complacency.

Republicans have similar vulnerabilities on the issues now. They have no real health-care agenda. Voters don’t trust them to look out for middle-class economic interests. Republicans are confused and divided about how to solve the party’s problems. What they can do is unite in opposition to the Obama administration’s scandals and mistakes. So that’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to win news cycles when they need votes.

Congressional Republicans were right to press for hearings on all of these issues. But investigations of the administration won’t supply them with ideas. They won’t make the public trust Republicans. They won’t save them from themselves.

This is consonant with recent polling: Obama’s approval rating has stayed steady despite the negative press, while an overwhelming majority of respondents think Republicans are not focusing on the issues that matter.

It’s tempting to say that a combination of scandal-lust and a policy void doomed Republicans in 1998, and will doom them now. But that implies that these two factors happened to occur simultaneously. I’d go one further and argue that the policy void is creating the scandal lust: nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of ideas the GOP must substitute whatever it can, and all it can churn up is endless investigations over White House talking points.

Further, Greg Sargeant wonders if conservatives will be distracted enough by the scandals to allow immigration reform to sneak through, which means the GOP could wake up after all this is over to find the public disgusted with their scandal mongering while a popular Democratic president touts a successful immigration reform package. If so, it’s not like the smarter pundits didn’t try to warn them.