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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hatred, wedge politics driving ‘scandals’

Charlie Cook: Red-faced Republicans, circling and preparing to pounce on a second-term Democratic president they loathe, do not respect, and certainly do not fear. Sound familiar? Perhaps reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s second term, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke? During that time, Republicans became so consumed by their hatred of Clinton and their conviction that this event would bring him down that they convinced themselves the rest of the country was just as outraged by his behavior as they were. By the way, what was Clinton’s lowest Gallup job-approval rating in his second term, throughout the travails of investigations and impeachment? It was 53 percent. The conservative echo machine had worked itself into such a frenzy, the GOP didn’t realize that the outrage was largely confined to the ranks of those who never voted for Clinton anyway.

These days, the country is even more polarized, and the conservative echo chamber is louder than ever before. Many conservatives made it all the way to Election Day last November unaware that their White House nominee was falling short. How could Mitt Romney possibly lose when everyone they knew was voting for him? Except that he did lose, and it wasn’t even a very close race. Five other post-World War II presidential elections had closer outcomes.

The simple fact is that although the Republican sharks are circling, at least so far, there isn’t a trace of blood in the water. A new CNN/ORC survey of 923 Americans this past Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, pegged Obama’s job-approval rating at 53 percent, up a statistically insignificant 2 points since their last poll, April 5-7, which was taken before the Benghazi, IRS, and AP-wiretap stories came to dominate the news and congressional hearing rooms. His disapproval rating was down 2 points since that last survey.
This is all very correct, but what really got my attention was the bit about polarization and “the conservative echo chamber.” Republicans have become so reliant on wedge issue politics over the years that they seem to have no idea how to operate without them. In fact, it seems to have become reflexive — they don’t even know they’re doing it.

Meanwhile, all the wedges are turning against them. But they don’t seem to be able to stop. And here again, we see a different sort of wedge that’s working just as poorly, but Republicans are so invested in in that they can’t stop.

Part of the problem is that the base takes these wedge issues extremely seriously. Republican voters believe that Benghazi is literally the worst thing ever, for example. When you have your marks constituents whipped up into that sort of a frenzy, you can’t just drop it when it’s not working for you. You’re pretty much committed to the issue, whether it’s a good idea or not. And it’s like that across the board; abortion is the Holocaust, gay marriage will destroy the family, undocumented immigrants are taking over America, etc. By amping everything up to eleven, they set themselves on courses they can’t reverse from — ever. If you drop the issue, the voters you’ve driven into a panic over it won’t show up at the polls.

And so now they find themselves screwed by their own outsized hatred of Barack Obama. The base literally believes he’s a Hitler in the making, so they can’t ever stop attacking him; even when it’s screwing them in the polls.

[photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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