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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Political Impact of Scandalabra

Gallup reports:
Slim majorities of Americans are very or somewhat closely following the situations involving the Internal Revenue Service (54%) and the congressional hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its aftermath (53%) -- comparatively low based on historical measures of other news stories over the last two decades.
A few days earlier, Pew reported:
 The public paid limited attention to last week’s congressional hearings on Benghazi. Fewer than half (44%) of Americans say they are following the hearings very or fairly closely, virtually unchanged from late January when Hillary Clinton testified. Last October, 61% said they were following the early stages of the investigation at least fairly closely.
It's likely that even smaller percentages would care about the Justice Department's seizure of AP phone records.  So is Scandalabra a political non-starter?  Hardly.

First, the AP story has alienated journalists, which means that the administration is in for tougher press scrutiny across the board.  One negative storyline might not make a dent in public opinion, but a barrage of them might.

Second, the scandals have jazzed up the GOP base.  Alex Roarty writes at National Journal:
Republicans also hope to use the controversies to stoke the embers of a conservative movement that seemed to be only flickering. That seems a fait accompli: The NRCC’s website saw its highest-ever day of traffic when the IRS revelations came to light, and committee officials say in the handful of days since, they reached a quarter of their total online fundraising goal for the entire year. “At a minimum, all of these story lines embolden the Republicans’ grassroots,” said Brian Walsh, a consultant who worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee the past two cycles. “Which is what you saw at the start of the 2010 cycle; it’s reigniting the fervor at the grassroots level.
Third, the IRS story will probably abort any agency plans to go after Crossroads GPS and other such groups.

Fourth, the IRS story also complicates the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, since IRS bears a heavy responsibility for administering key portions of the law.  And the IRS handed a huge weapon to Obamacare critics, as CBS reports:

The IRS official in charge of the division responsible for discriminating against conservative organizations was promoted to head the IRS' Affordable Care Act office because she is a "superb civil servant," acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller told Congress on Friday.
While testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee about the undue scrutiny the IRS put on conservative nonprofits applying for tax-exempt status, Miller confirmed that Sarah Hall Ingram, who served as commissioner of the office responsible for the discrimination, was promoted. He acknowledged that her office provided "horrible customer service," even though he promoted her.
Fifth, crowdsourcing will come into play. Until now, individuals and groups may have been hesitant to disclose that they have been the subject of IRS audits.  Now they are coming forth and suggesting that the agency had political motives.  There will be many such stories in the months ahead.