Since last year's election, the Republican Party's political leaders offered a blueprint of how they can rebuild the party after disappointing across-the-board 2012 losses, proposing a retooled platform that would better appeal to the middle class and be more welcoming to minorities.
But the controversies besieging the White House present an alternative strategy—simply running against the Democratic problems at the expense of dealing with the long-term challenges the party faces. Republican officials are now sending strong signals they're planning to highlight the Democratic scandals more than any major policy push heading into next year's midterm elections.
Opting for the easy way out could achieve short-term success, but the party risks avoiding the hard work necessary to make it more appealing to moderates and independents in the long run.
House Republicans have the most direct connection to the ongoing controversies that engulfed the White House, because their members have led the congressional investigations into the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi, and may take a lead role in examining the Justice Department's handling of Associated Press reporters' phone records. Consequently, officials there are most bullish that the news dominating headlines in May 2013 can make an impact that lasts until November 2014.
Aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee say they bolster a time-tested argument: That Republican congressmen need to be elected because they are a vital check on President Obama's authority. The wrongdoing those investigations have helped uncover, particularly with the IRS, contribute to an already-pervasive sense among voters that the executive branch shouldn't wield too much authority, NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.
"It's always been in our talking points," Bozek said. "What's making it even more potent now is having House Republicans on the nightly news in a thoughtful way trying to figure out what exactly was going on with these different scandals. Your average American in Iowa can watch the nightly news and see we're doing our jobs, we're providing the necessary oversight, and trying to make sure this never happens again."
Helping push the strategy along for both House and Senate Republicans is the 2014 map, which favors the GOP. Republicans defending their majority in the House will fight mostly in conservative territory—their party holds only five seats with a Democratic advantage.
Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, will campaign in seven states that Mitt Romney carried, which are held by Democrats. They need to net six seats to regain the majority. The favorable landscape means that even if the scandals only permeate among conservatives, that could be enough for the party to take back full control of Congress.
"The 2014 Democrats are already facing a tough midterm election, and they're terrified of the political ramifications of the scandals," said Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Despite a wandering focus, Republicans argue they can both rebuild the party while incorporating Obama's troubles into their message. House Speaker John Boehner, speaking Tuesday on the House floor, reiterated that he and his colleagues remain dedicated to rebuilding the economy.
"This House is going to continue to be focused on the issue of jobs," said Boehner, who touted the GOP's approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. "It's the No. 1 issue of concern to our fellow citizens and we're going to continue to be focused on the things that get in the way of job creation in our country."
In the same speech, Boehner said his colleagues were also providing the necessary balance to Obama's power.
"Republicans understand we have to walk, talk, and chew gum," said Guy Harrison, a former executive director of the NRCC. "We have to look at a focused investigation, while also focusing on the economy, and jobs."
For their part, Democrats—while not encouraged by the scandals—are happy to have Republicans focus on them. Just another example, they say, of a party trapped in pleasing its base while forgetting to appeal to more moderate voters.
"They can't resist," said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "The base can't stand the rebranding. Scandalmania plays better for them with the base and they've become a slave to the base."
This article appears in the May 24, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.
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