Let me say again that I think the trifecta of scandals hovering around the White House warrant serious investigation and a credible probe of the facts. And it remains unclear where that path will lead.
But as the summer fug settles over Washington DC, I think it’s increasingly clear that — barring new revelations — the political fall-out from the mess will be far less damaging than Republicans and conservatives hope. Here are six reasons why.
1. So far, it’s just not playing outside the I Hate Obama community. Yes, these accusations are serious. But most Americans don’t seem to be buying the conservative narrative that the jury is in and guilt has already been fixed. Remember that we’ve been down this road before. In the 1990s, Republicans thought they had a convincing scandal narrative that would permanently alienate voters from Bill Clinton. From Whitewater to Lewinsky, they painted a portrait that, in the Rush-Limbaugh-sphere was utterly damning. Americans didn’t buy it and Clinton had a successful second term.
2. The Republican narrative is muddled. There are two completely contradictory stories being told. The first is that Mr. Obama is a quota candidate, a lazy guy elected for his blackness who has no real qualifications. He is a bungler, who plays too much golf. The second narrative is that he is a kind of Machiavellian “Chicago” style manipulator, a tyrannical figure who is using the engines of power to strip Americans of their freedom. I sometimes hear conservatives make both claims in a single paragraph. One charge might stick. Both won’t.
3. Republicans are letting the crazy show. Remember back in 2012 when Mitt Romney was being creamed by that horrible video tape that showed him talking down the “47 percent”? Barack Obama’s team went silent. They let the story play out, knowing that when the torpedoes are in the water the best thing to do is stay out of the way and hope for a big explosion. The GOP doesn’t have that kind of discipline. There’s wild talk of impeachment. On Fox News people are being compared to Adolph Hitler and Richard Nixon. Local conservative activist Bob Schulz, from Queensbury, described the IRS as “the largest, most feared terrorist organization in the Western Hemisphere,” in an interview with the Glens Falls Post Star. That kind of stuff makes average Americans think this is just more culture war noise.
4. Liberals got no place to go. One reason these last couple of weeks have looked so bad for the White House — and this gets overlooked in a lot of the analysis — is that liberals are furious, too. The MSNBC and Huffingtonpost chattering class has been frustrated with Obama for years and these scandals, especially the Justice Department’s AP probe, have opened the floodgates. Which means that people who would normally be defending the president are slapping him around. But barring ugly new disclosures, that won’t last.
5. Obama is a tenth-round fighter. People forget this over and over. And over. I hear from my liberal and my conservative friends the same idea, that this president flops or he concedes too early or he won’t get angry or he doesn’t know how to throw a punch. Yes, this White House is cautious. Clearly. But it also has a record of beating down opponents slowly and steadily. Ask Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Mitt Romney or the opponents of Obamacare or people who didn’t want gays in the military or the people who thought the Solyndra or the Fast and Furious accusations would stick.
6. The economy is doing pretty well. This is the biggy. This is the firewall. Republicans worked feverishly over the last half decade to convince Americans that this president couldn’t fix the economy and that he would bankrupt us along the way. America is the next Greece! But unemployment is down and the stock market is up, and that’s a big contrast with the situation in European countries that embraced austerity. Meanwhile, the Federal budget deficit is plummeting — shrinking from 10% of GDP at the height of the recession to roughly 2% of GDP by 2015, according to a new Congressional study. If those numbers keep up, it will be hard for the Republicans to get people excited about Benghazi or about the idea that Obama is a failed president.
By mid-summer, barring another big shoe dropping, this round of scandal will be added to the massive pile of resentments that have built up among conservatives.
The right will see this as another “smoking gun” moment that the rest of America — all the “low information” voters — failed to grasp.
But as their 401ks and their home values and their job prospects perk upwards, the rest of the country will have moved on to barbecues and holidays and summer blockbuster movies.