The idea that Nancy Pelosi would again become Speaker after the 2014 elections was always something of a Democrat fantasy. It may be a good story to get a lefty to sleep at night, but it wasn’t likely to happen. In the last 100 years, only once has a President’s party picked up seats in the sixth year of a term. Redistricting in 2011 has put many of the seats the Democrats need out of reach. Whatever confluence of events Democrats envisioned would allow them to retake the House have been swept aside by the IRS scandal. The Democrats best hope now is that they don’t lose additional seats.
The IRS scandal is the only evidence Republicans need for their argument that government shouldn’t grow too large. It immediately crystalizes for voters thousands of white papers and hours of talking points about the danger of letting government encroach further into our lives. The Obama Administration’s argument that the targeting of conservative organizations was the brain-child of low-level bureaucrats is perhaps more terrifying than the action being directed by top officials. If no-name bureaucrats somewhere in Ohio can take this action on their own, what is to stop it from happening everywhere?
Given the rapidity of the news cycle and the short attention-span of voters, it is possible that the IRS scandal recedes from the headlines by next year. The Republican base, to be sure, is newly energized and will remain that way until the election, but the critical block of independents may forget about the scandal, assuming a sufficient number of people are fired. The current scandal, however, will hit Democrats hardest in the one area most critical to their election efforts, i.e. candidate recruitment.
To win back the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats. Most of these seats were won by Mitt Romney in 2012, meaning Democrats will need strong support from Independents and a sizable cross-over of Republican votes. Doing so requires top-tier candidates able to pivot away from national issues and focus on very local concerns. The IRS scandal is an enormous political head-wind that will likely frighten away the most capable recruits.
Waging a successful challenger campaign requires a sophisticated campaign organization and millions of dollars. Campaigns need to begin now, to build the infrastructure capable of winning against incumbents. No doubt, Democrat party officials are currently criss-crossing the country trying to persuade local officials to challenge incumbent Republicans. Today’s IRS scandal headlines will negate these efforts.
Friday’s hearing at the House Ways and Means Committee on the scandal is a good indication of how politically damaging this is to Democrats. While there were some weak attempts to situationally justify the IRS actions, every Democrat who spoke expressed outrage at the agency’s actions. No doubt, much of this was playing to the cameras, but the fact remains they believed they had to do this.
Who wants to go through 18 months of grueling campaigning, knocking on thousands of doors and begging donors for millions of dollars to have to go through that? Who knows what other revelations will come out over the coming weeks and months. Even before the scandals broke, high-profile moderate Democrats rejected party pleas to run for open Senate seats. Does anyone expect House Democrats to have more luck, now that the scandals have broken?
The IRS scandal may be out of the headlines next November, but it is scuttling Democrats’ dream of a majority today.