Jonathan Weisman and Matthew Wald write in The New York Times, “Since last year’s elections, Republicans in Congress have struggled for traction on their legislative efforts, torn between conservatives who drove the agenda after the 2010 landslide and new voices counseling a shift in course to reflect President Obama’s re-election and the 2012 loss of Republican seats in the House and the Senate.”
Enter the IRS. We've learned the Internal Revenue Service, a branch of President Obama’s Treasury Department, has orchestrated a campaign of abuse and harassment since 2010, lasting at least through the 2012 re-election campaign, against conservative, Tea Party and even pro-Israel groups.
Continue Messrs. Weisman and Wald in The Times, “…the accusations of IRS abuse are sure to fuel an effort that appears to be uniting dispirited Republicans and their conservative political base: investigating Mr. Obama and his administration. Republicans are pushing a portrayal of an administration overreaching its authority and punishing its enemies.”
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Mr. Obama and his IRS aren't carving new paths through the political jungle. In other words, we've been here before.
In their Washington Post column, Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan quote Doug Schoen, pollster for NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg: “Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. That being said, we are still a very long way from that point. The allegations are very, very serious, and it is simply impossible to believe that it was just Lois Lerner and some low-level employees in Cincinnati who came up with this scheme to systematically focus on Tea Party and ‘patriot’ groups.”
Right now, the level of outrage and exasperation with President Obama and the IRS is still so high, relatively little focus is being given to the 2014 elections, still more than 17 months in the future. But once we know more about who really knew what and when, and who really ordered the IRS to lay siege to Conservative America, you can assume the IRS will garner central focus among what already appears to be shaping up as a scandal-centric election cycle.
And this does not bode well for Democrats, because those ever-important swing voters in the center don’t like to be pandered to, don’t like to be taken for granted, and most of all, don’t like to be lied to.
A recent CNN poll released May 19, 2013, shed some interesting first looks at the challenges ahead for Democrats if they handle the IRS and other scandals badly.
By other scandals, I’m referring to the murders of the American diplomat and security staff in Benghazi, the alleged extortion of health care companies by HHS Secretary Sibelius, and the likely-illegal wiretapping and seizure of personal emails of AP and Fox News reporters by the Obama Department of Justice that could very well end with the firing, resignation or impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to the CNN poll, 6% of Americans have a very favorable opinion (I’d love to meet these people—I’m assuming they’re friends of family of IRS employees) and 28% have a somewhat favorable opinion of the IRS, to 30% somewhat unfavorable and 35% very unfavorable.
In all seriousness, the combined 34% very/somewhat favorable is important to note because these respondents are highest among younger, lower income, non-white, liberal, Democrat, non-white households – exactly those least likely to turnout to vote in the “second off-year” elections when the liberal, Democrat president’s party is depressed, under attack, and unmotivated to vote.
CNN asked respondents, “As you may know, the IRS targeted conservative political groups for greater scrutiny of their applications for tax exempt status. How important in issue do you think this is to the nation?” Overall, 85% of respondents said it is important (55% very, 30% somewhat), to just 10% who say “not too important” and 5% who say “not important at all.”
So who were these people? Non-white respondents (62% very important) are more likely to say it was important than white respondents (52% very important). There’s a major crack in the Obama wall, reminding us of Dr. Dre’s immortal quote (I’m sure you quote the good Dr. as often as I do), “The only two things that scare me are God and the IRS.”
College educated respondents (53% very important) are more likely to say it is important than those who haven’t attended college (57% very important), another potential crack in the Obama base.
Only when sorted by ideology did answers fall back into more predictable patterns: conservatives 71%, moderates 47%, liberals 39%.
Even more interesting is the partisan divide as to whether Mr. Obama is telling the truth. 86% of Democrats insist he is (31% completely, 55% mostly) to just 28% of Republicans who agreed (4% completely, 24% mostly).
Comparatively, among Independents just eight percent say Mr. Obama is still being completely truthful, and 50% said he was still being mostly truthful. That number, the mostly truthful folks, are the ones with the greatest chance of moving if it is proven the White House did have internal knowledge of the IRS actions before Mr. Obama’s reelection.
This is where it may all come crashing down – and why I wasn’t surprised to see what I expect will be the first of many senior administration staffers asserting their 5th Amendment rights not to testify before Congress.
Finally, one figure outshone all the others as hinting at a volatile 2014 election year, and all the credit goes to Independents once again.
In response to CNN’s question about whether or not Republicans are over-reacting to the IRS scandal, or if Republicans are reacting appropriately, 42% say Republicans are overreacting, while 53% say Republicans are acting appropriately. This includes a surprising (to me, at least) one in three (31%) Democrats and 85% of Republicans saying Republicans are responding appropriately – a combined 54% of all respondents.
It’s too early to say with real certainty what will happen in 2014, but the senior Democrats announcing their retirements, distancing themselves from the President, calling for investigations into the IRS, into Benghazi, into the scandals? They are clearly seeing the same patterns I am – and I don’t blame them one bit for panicking. Today, it’s a good day to be a Republican.