Yeah, you read that right. According to CNN, President Obama is now more popular now than he was two months ago. People think he's doing a better job.
So much for a presidency in disarray. In the aftermath of the GOP holding hearings with "Benghazi whistleblowers," the release of Benghazi talking points emails, the IRS scandal, and the AP phone records subpoena ... Obama isn't just unshaken, he's stronger than he was two months ago.
For Republicans, this wasn't the plan. Americans weren't supposed to be shrugging this stuff off—they were supposed to be lapping it up. Obama was supposed to be on the ropes, maybe even pondering resignation. Instead, outside the GOP bubble, it's a big "meh."
But there is some "good" news for Republicans. Greg Sargent looked at the numbers and reports the GOP base is still solidly in the bubble:
I mentioned last week that President Obama's poll numbers would almost certainly drop in the face of intense criticism. Even if there are no meaningful allegations of wrongdoing involving the White House, when the public hears the words "president" and "scandal" over and over again, it's likely to take a toll.
Or perhaps not. CNN released a poll yesterday showing Obama's approval rating going up, not down, reaching 53%. What's more, Gallup daily tracking put the president's standing at 47% a week ago, then reaching 51% on Saturday, before inching to 50% yesterday.
How is this possible given the media firestorm and the constant talk of a "White House in crisis"? It may have something to do with the fact that there are partisan differences in how the news is being perceived.
I put together this chart, for example, showing the partisan breakdown responding to this question in the CNN poll: Do you think that what Barack Obama has said in public about [the IRS controversy] has been completely true, mostly true, mostly false, or completely false?" I then combined "true" and "mostly true," followed by "false" and "completely false."
Democrats and independents believe the president's remarks have been truthful; Republicans do not. This isn't surprising, of course, but it does help explain the larger political dynamic -- those who were already inclined to support Obama continue to do so; those inclined to believe the worst about the president continue to do that, too. Similar results were found in response to Benghazi-related questions.
As Greg Sargent put it, "In the case of the IRS and Benghazi stories, the lurid and nefarious view of Obama's involvement in them being peddled by the right is held only by Republicans -- big majorities of them -- while most moderates and independents, i.e. the middle of the country, believe the White House's arguments."
It probably doesn't hurt that news consumers who take a closer look at the available facts find that the president find that the IRS and Benghazi stories don't point to presidential wrongdoing, either.
I should mention a couple of other angles to keep an eye on. First, the sustained poll support may not last -- if there are weeks or months of "scandal" speculation and Nixon comparisons, Obama's standing may yet deteriorate. Many may already be tired of the controversies, but with hearings and investigations on the way, scandal mania will probably dominate the political world's attention for quite a while.
Second, while all of this is at least somewhat interesting, I hope talk of polls and political implications does not drown out the more significant takeaway from recent developments: we're getting a good look at real policy problems, not political scandals, and the more the political world focuses on solutions, the better.
That means putting several ideas on the front burner: a media shield law, improved embassy security, IRS reforms, a renewed look at the ambiguities surrounding tax law as it relates to political non-profit groups, etc.
When it comes to culture-war politics and candidates for statewide office, it's tempting to think Virginia's state attorney general and Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Ken Cuccinelli, represents an extreme wing of his party. But over the weekend, the Virginia GOP officially nominated its slate of statewide candidates, and the man Republicans chose to run for lieutenant governor is arguably even more unhinged.
It's time to get to know E.W. Jackson. This guy is not your garden-variety right-wing activist; this guy is special.
In his second interview with Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality and pastor John Kirkwood, Bishop E.W. Jackson launched into another blistering tirade against gays and lesbians. The anti-gay activist said that gays and lesbians have "perverted" minds and are "very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally," and bigoted against African Americans and Christians. [...]
Jackson added that homosexuality "poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies" and will lead to God's judgment.
And this really is just the tip of a large iceberg. Jackson has accused President Obama of having "Muslim sensibilities" and seeing the world "from a Muslim perspective." Jackson sees Democrats embracing a policy agenda "worthy of the Antichrist." He's argued that the "repeal of the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' law is a disaster of historic proportions and it must be reinstated."
He believes liberals who support gay rights "have done more to kill black folks" than the "Ku Klux Klan." And speaking of the KKK, Jackson has argued, "The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was."
It's unusual to find fringe figures pushing arguments like these in public, but it's even more unusual for fringe figures to be nominated by a major political party to run for statewide office after compiling a record like this one.
This will be Jackson's second attempt at statewide office -- he ran an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign last year, winning about 5 percent of the vote.
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The newly minted Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia once compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and bemoaned black voters’ “slavish devotion” to the Democratic Party — past statements that are likely to inflame the culture-war politics of the state’s 2013 elections. Cuccinelli and Jackson are completely on the same page here. Earlier this year, Cuccinnelli said reproductive freedom was like slavery, and Jackson "wholeheartedly" endorsed Cuccinnelli's position.
And like Cuccinnelli, Jackson is quite the bigot when it comes to sexual orientation, saying things like there's a "direct connection" between gay people and pedophilia, and saying that gays are "frankly very sick people" who try to "sexualize" the young at early age to become "pawns" for their movement.
It's pretty amazing stuff for 2013. But seriously, did you expect anything less from the party that nominated Cuccinelli to be its candidate for governor of Virginia?
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seems to have an unusual fondness for conspiracy theories. Paul believes, for example, that the administration is conspiring with the United Nations to "confiscate and destroy all 'unauthorized' civilian firearms." He believes there was a secret gun-running scheme that shipped weapons from Libya to Turkey. He fears gun-toting meteorologists and is convinced the Obama administration is responsible for problems with his toilet.
And when it comes to the IRS's scrutiny of groups applying for tax-exempt status, Paul believes there are secret memos that exist in his imagination that point to a conspiracy that only he understands.
While the Internal Revenue Service maintains it was not focusing on conservative groups out of political bias, Sen. Rand Paul claimed Sunday there was a "written policy" floating around the agency that said IRS officials were "targeting people who were opposed to the president."
"And when that comes forward, we need to know who wrote the policy and who approved the policy," the Republican senator from Kentucky said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Pressed for more precise details about the memo he was referring to, Paul said he hasn't seen such a policy statement but has heard about it.
Oh, well in that case, we should certainly take this seriously. Rand Paul has heard about a document that doesn't appear to exist? We might as well draw up articles of impeachment now.
All joking aside, Paul told a national television audience that he "keeps hearing" about the secret memo that's been "reported orally."
It's possible electing a self-accredited ophthalmologist to the U.S. Senate wasn't the smartest thing Kentucky ever did.
It's troubling enough when Paul shares wacky thoughts with fringe figures like Alex Jones and the folks at World Net Daily, but it's more problematic when a major news organization gives Paul a national platform and he says ridiculous things to the public. What's more, many news consumers may have tuned in and assumed Paul's nuttiness has merit -- after all, he's a U.S. senator. If he says he's heard about a secret memo, maybe Americans should take this seriously.
Except, of course, there is no secret memo; the information hasn't been "reported orally"; and taking Rand Paul's wacky theories seriously is generally a very bad idea.
Update: Dave Weigel defends Paul on this, suggesting the senator may have been referring to page 6 of the IG report, which said the Determinations Unit for the tax-exempt office "began developing a spreadsheet that would become known as the 'Be On the Look Out' listing," which included by way of a criteria political groups that were critical of the president.
It's certainly possible that's what Paul was referring to, though I'm not sure how the "reported orally" response ties into this.