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. Usually the president’s party loses representation in Congress in midterm elections.
In a postelection political autopsy, Republicans offered some self-reflection that should sound familiar. “We have done incredible damage,” said John G. Rowland, the governor of Connecticut at the time, “because in my opinion we’ve developed a laundry list of people that we’re against.” Mr. Rowland went on to list the groups that he thought Republicans had alienated: women, immigrants and gays, just to name a few.The story omits a relevant detail: In 2005, Rowland went to prison on a federal corruption charge.
In any case, the analogy is wide of the mark. The Lewinsky scandal backfired because voters could not see the relevance to their daily lives. By contrast, everybody deals with the IRS. Peggy Noonan writes:
One of the reasons a lot of people in New York and Washington are not deeply distressed by the IRS targeting of conservative groups is that they have it in their heads that it only involved the tea party and the tea party is full of nuts, weirdoes and radicals whose discouragement wouldn’t be a grave national loss. It’s not only tea-party groups that were targeted, of course, but the IRS was only too happy to get the idea out there that it was. But if you’re the kind of person who thinks Tea Party people are low and extreme, that they’re the kind of people who’d hurt our country, take a few minutes to look at this. It’s a website that will take you to videos of a town hall meeting of the SouthWest Cincinnati Tea Party. It was held Wednesday night. Its subject was “IRS Intimidation—Are You Next?”
Do those people really strike you as weird and radical? Do they seem destructive? They are normal citizens. And they feel besieged.