Monday, May 12, 2014



These are heady days for the GOP.  President Obama’s personal popularity and his job approval ratings are at low ebb.  The number of people who think the country is on the wrong track is double the number that thinks it is on the right track. The generic Congressional ballot shows Republicans with a lead portending a sweep of 2010 proportions.  At this moment, we can expect the GOP tighten their grip on the House and take the Senate.

Since it is all over for the Democrats except for the counting, the post-mortems, and the finger pointing, the Republicans have smartly turned their eyes towards 2015 and beyond.  My goodness will 2017 be fun!

Which, rather sadly, bring us back to the here and now.   Yes, the Democrats are going to get slaughtered in a few months.  And yes, on top of the endless policy disputes between Congress and the White House, that does mean that we will likely see impeachment proceedings in the House, and quite possibly a trial in the Senate, since many in the GOP will not be able to control themselves long enough to wait for salvation through the ballot.  But there’s eight awful months before they can really get going on that, and, there has to be something to distract them.

So, what to do for the rest of 2014?  You can block Obama’s appointees, but there’s only so much fun to be had with that.  You could try to repeal Obamacare, but a lot of juice has been squeezed from that lemon already.  You could lay out, in detail, what your plan is for America when you get in charge, but that would be ill advised, because then you might actually lose.

The base needs more.  Shoveling through the ashes of the perpetual denounce machine is really kind of dull.  Of course, everyone hates Obama-- at least the red-blooded non-taking native-born real Americans do, but if you are a party elder, you also know a scary little secret:  In 2016 Barack Obama will not be on the ballot.  Yes, you can campaign as if he was.  But he won’t be, and amidst all the measuring of the drapes, and the secret handshakes with your largest contributors, that is a very troubling fact.  Barack Obama might very well have brought new voters to the polls, but he also drove many others to vote against him, and more than a few of those were at least nominally Democrats.

I’m oversimplifying greatly, but there are basically two main types of Republicans these days.  The first includes the ones who have worked themselves into such frenzy over everything Obama that they embraced a world-view that sometimes seems out of touch with reality.  They actually believe the birther nonsense, the Saul Alinsky references, the Kenyan Muslim stuff and every wild conspiracy ginned up in every corner.  The second group sees Obama as a political problem.  They disagree with him on a philosophical level, they have (often quite legitimate) complaints about his performance, but what they really want is for one of theirs to be in charge.  Both groups might engage in the same tactics of obstruction and vituperation, but the truth is that most Republicans, even those in the gerrymandered House, are not in the least bit crazy.

You can see this shift over the last few months, as the outlines of the size of the potential Republican victory get clearer.  The sane people in the GOP don’t want to blow it.  Their spokespeople in the press are counseling calm, deliberate action.  Obstruct, criticize, condemn, etc. are all still useful tools, but the most important thing the GOP can possibly do is not kick it away.   So they are backing mainstream (very conservative, but supported by the party) candidates and incumbents against insurgent ultra-ideologues. 

There is a lot at stake for the GOP in the next two cycles.  Obama’s tepid performance and his personal issues give them the chance to hard wire control of Congress, and that means that no laws will be passed in the next couple of years without major concessions or outright capitulation from the Democrats.  And 2016 gives them the chance of a generation—to usher in a new wave of top-to-bottom conservatism.  There is also the money issue.  They will always have people like the ideologically and economically motivated Koch brothers, but the rest of their corporate backers from organizations like ALEC and the Fortune 500 set to the US Chamber of Commerce invest money for a return.  They expect results, and results can only come from winning.  Businesses will not perpetually throw good money after bad.

Still, one of the GOP’s biggest assets in the midterms, where turnout is always lower, is the passion of their shock troops.  That is very hard to manage, because you have to keep the pressure-cooker perking without having the top blow off.

There are two aspects to this, both institutionally and individually. The first is making sure you are right wing enough to keep control (or your job) from the farther right.  But the second, if you really have aspirations for high office in any place that isn’t deep Red, is to stay away from the fringe and the stupid.   That’s a high wire act, as Marco Rubio showed this past weekend, when he graded Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State tenure an “F” (perfectly acceptable partisan commentary) and then plunged, unnecessarily, into the climate-change denial ritual baths. 

Fringy/stupid can cost.  Polling shows that on most issues, the public favors the Democrats but thinks them less than fully competent.  For the GOP to sweep the next two elections, they need to show they are able to govern competently and rationally.  And they need to keep those disaffected Democrats who weren’t going to vote for Barack Obama but might very well vote for a more conventional Democrat, such as Hillary Clinton or even Joe Biden.   

Blessedly, Judicial Watch, an ultra-right wing policy group that bills itself as non-partisan has come to the rescue.  They have uncovered, through a FOIA request, a White House email on Benghazi that appeared to show that the Administration was concerned about how to put the best face on the disaster.

Christmas arrived early for the GOP: the Benghazistein monster just got reanimated. And what makes this even better is that deep in the Libyan doo-doo is none other than Hillary Clinton.  The Ghosts of Presidents Past and Future. 

Swiftly, Speaker Boehner announced yet another investigation, to be headed by South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy.  Just as swiftly, the GOP has started to fundraise, showing, once again, that the best way to make money is by using taxpayer cash as seed-corn.  And, in lockstep, conservative commentators and Fox have been running round the clock coverage rivaling CNN’s on Flight 370. 

The Democrats really don’t know what to do.  There have already been over a dozen investigations into Benghazi.  Many Democrats don’t want to participate at all and are suggesting a boycott, a particularly dumb response, in my opinion, because someone has to be in the room.

What really happened there?  I am not going to pretend I know.  What I think might have occurred was an intelligence failure, a slow reaction, perhaps based on the poor intelligence, perhaps because of poor judgment, and a White House that did a little spinning.  There have been a lot of Americans that have died overseas under Presidents of both parties, and a lot of spinning that followed those deaths, and none of those past incidences have given rise to anything like Benghazistein.

But I’m not really sure, and I wonder who is and from where they are getting their information.  Appointing another committee of hanging judges isn’t going to get to the truth, and Gowdy, on Fox News (of course) has already shown in inclinations.  This will be, as he indicated before correcting himself, a prosecution, not an investigation.

Good for the Party? Probably yes, in the short term.  The lads over on the Tea Party side of the table will have a chance to work off a little energy, the money will flow in, and the White House and Hillary will certainly be embarrassed.  Longer term, I have doubts, if for no other reason than I don’t believe that Gowdy and his allies will really be able to maintain any sense of due process or dignity.

That’s the real danger of Benghazistein, for both parties.  Once the monster is loose, it will careen out of control, churning up plenty of mud, but very little clarity.

Really bad for the brand.  Both brands.

They deserve it.

March 12, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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