After five years of watching President Obama live a charmed political life, Republicans are salivating at the trifecta of scandals that threatens to derail his second term. I’d advise them to be careful. It’s a trap.
Yes, it will undermine Obama’s core “government is the solution” message. And yes, it will force Team Obama off message at a critical time.
But any Republican with a memory will recall that they have seen this movie before and they didn’t like the ending. Think back to the Clinton years, which I saw firsthand as an investigative reporter. I covered everything from the silly (“Travelgate”) to the soap opera (Monica). Here’s what usually happened: Clinton screwed up, Republican overreached, the public ignored.
But politicians have lousy memories, and Republicans will find it irresistible to focus on scandal. But that may not sit well with voters who think that the economy and solving unemployment for millions of Americans should be the priority. Remember, the Clinton scandals occurred during a boom economy and prior to 9/11. The public is in a more serious mood these days.
It’s too early to say what real impact the Trifecta of Woes that plagues Obama will have on his presidency. In the short term, it’s a clear distraction. Not that he’s asking, but my counsel to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would be to ration the amount of time lawmakers spend on scandal. The mistake in the past was the rush to push the story forward, often beyond the facts. That meant the story often became about Republican overreach, not the scandal itself.
For example, Boehner should keep somewhere close a rolled up newspaper, and use it liberally whenever one of his colleagues mentions impeachment.
Because if the Joe Voter comes to believe that Republicans are more interested in making Obama look bad than helping their neighbor or friend find a job, he will make the GOP pay on Election Day 2014.
Of course, there is one big variable here: Obama himself.
Can the Chosen One handle this? Bill Clinton, literally a child of chaos, spent his political life immersed in crisis. Clinton could play Jenga during a mudslide. He was the ultimate compartmentalizer. Obama’s charmed political life has not prepared him for a year of televised congressional investigations, the inevitable revelations and bad news that will come and the loss of confidence, even if temporary, that scandal brings.
Obama has apparently decreed that his team devote only a small fraction of its efforts to dealing with the crisis. That’s guaranteed to fail. When the headlines blare bad news, it will be all hands on deck. He’d be much better served to dedicate some smart staffers to dealing with these issues. Clinton brought in masters of disaster Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane to handle scandal, largely freeing the rest of his team to devote to the people’s business. And Clinton’s saving grace in the middle of his troubles was the public’s belief that he was focused on their problems, not his.
So beware, Republicans. The months ahead may feel good watching Obama squirm, but it doesn’t mean you won’t pay the price as well.
Galvin is a former investigative reporter with the New York Daily News. He is now CEO of the consulting firm 463 Communications.