May 17, 2014

Exactly when will all these 2-for-1 scandals affect Obama?


In the wake of two never-really played out Benghazi scandals that have so far failed to engulf president Obama and Hillary Clinton, Obama's job approval ratings remain mired in mediocrity instead of plummeting to depths conservatives have hoped.  And that was a two-for-one scandal: firstly, not doing enough to prevent the deaths (before and during the terrorist attack) as well as covering up the fact that it was a terrorist attack and lying to the public about knowing that, just to win re-eelction for the president. In the overlooked IRS targeting Tea Party scandal (another two for one - the targeting and then claiming it was just a local problem), the president remains fairly flat with his job approval.  In the face of the NSA spying on journalists, the president's numbers remain leaky, but afloat.  With the NSA also spying on all Americans, the president is still keeping his head near the waterline.  And with the ill-conceived and poorly executed rollout of Obamacare, and the suspect number of actual enrollments that the president is putting forward the president still clings to the fringes of job approval respectability.  

And now there's the scandal of the Veterans Administration having secret lists and allowing veterans to die while on waiting lists for surgeries.  Another executive misdeed followed by another cover-up. Another two-for-one scandal.  Despite all of these two-for-one scandals, the president remains much more 'approved' than is justifiable.  Which leads me to believe that if the damage hasn't already been done to the extent that it should have, it just won't.

Conservatives are right to expect that the president's job approval should be in the 10% to 25% range.  They are not right to expect that it will actually happen.  It won't, and it isn't going to get any worse than it is right now.  Just as the president has a ceiling for job approval (and support), he also has a floor, and we've reached it.

That's bad news.  As Obama heads into the summer, his approval numbers appear to have even rebounded slightly.  The summer typically tends to be a holding pattern in politics.  With the exception of the 2010 town halls during the birth of the Tea Party and the birth of opposition to Obamacare, not much happens politically in the summertime.  It's as if the pause button has been hit.

That does not bode well for the GOP and even worse for conservatives.  When people re-engage in the fall, there is a short window to make the case to voters that president Obama does not deserve more Congressional and Senate supporters, but rather less of them.  By that time perhaps there will be a breakthrough on Benghazi or on Lois Lerner.  Perhaps not.  The GOP and conservatives have been lackluster at best in painting the scandal-ridden president to the public as who he really is.  

Meanwhile the president has seemingly been casting about, looking for an issue to connect with voters - the minimum wage and pay fairness, immigration reform and gender politics (among other issues) have all been items he has discussed in campaign style fashion over the last few months.  Conservatives might be tempted to see that as desperation.  It's not - it's called securing the base.  

How else to explain that despite the scandals, the president's approval record appears to have bottomed out for now?  He's working the base for turnout in the fall.  The Obama turnout machine killed Mitt Romney in 2012.  They know their constituencies.  They know which buttons they have to press in order to win, and they are doing it already for the November midterms.

The lesson for the GOP is that trying to get some or all of these scandals to really stick should not be the main objective.  There's no reason to drop them, but a meaningful victory can only come with a positive message about what the GOP stands for, and what it can do for Americans in all walks of life, is the only way for the GOP to win. Relying solely on scandal is a gamble, and it's likely to be a losing bet.
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