We’re now two full weeks into the IRS abuse scandal. Lois Lerner planted the question that kicked the whole thing off on May 10. Today, she is on paid administrative leave and has been slapped with a personal lawsuit by Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote. The new head of the IRS has asked her to resign, and she has refused. She went to Congress, took the oath, claimed her innocence and then clammed up, all of that happening in a way that exposes her to contempt of Congress charges and even possible jail time if she doesn’t talk. Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was fake-fired by President Obama, and a replacement for him has been named. Hearings have been held, more names have been reported, more abuse identified, more IRS officials implicated. Also, in that two weeks we have gone from the White House claiming that no one there knew anything before Lerner’s planted question, to “Yeah, a couple people knew” to “Oh, by the way, the deputy counsel helped plan the planted question tactic.” When he was asked directly if he knew anything about it all last week, President Obama changed the subject. Then yesterday, he changed the subject again with a big speech, trying to send Americans and Congress off chasing hares at Gitmo.
If Obama really really cared about closing Gitmo, he would come up with a plan to actually do it. He could have done that at any time of his choosing since January 2009. His big idea in yesterday’s speech was to have a divided Congress come up with a plan. That’ll work out into the House saying “Put the terrorists under Yucca Mountain” and the Senate saying “Send them to the same place Nakoula Nakoula is doing time.”
But with all of these storylines and headfakes going on, is the scandal — the environment of scandals — hurting Obama in popular opinion? Maybe no, maybe so, says Rasmussen.
So far, there are three major issues — the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives, the Justice Department’s secret media probe and the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi last Sept. 11.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaking on CNN, dismissed “the premise, the idea that these were scandals.” However, voters see it differently. Just over half believe each of the three qualifies as a scandal. Only one out of eight sees them as no big deal.
Voters also reject the notion that the IRS targeting was the work of some low-level rogue employees. Just 20 percent believe that to be the case. A slightly larger number (26 percent) thinks the decision came from IRS headquarters. But 39 percent believe the decision to target conservative groups was made by someone who works at the White House.
This isn’t just a case of people believing politicians always behave this way. Only 19 percent think the IRS usually targets political opponents of the president.
Skepticism is so high that few are convinced the IRS acted alone. Sixty percent believe that other federal agencies also were used to target the tea party and other conservative groups. Ominously for Democrats, two out of three unaffiliated voters share that view.
So, why hasn’t it hurt the president’s overall job approval? Some believe it has. The theory is that with a recovering economy, his ratings should be higher. Another possibility is that the president’s base may have doubts, but they are still sticking by their man.
Or, they’re low-information voters. Or, they’re fine with the president punishing his enemies, as long as it’s this president doing the punishing. Or a mix of all that and other things thrown in.
Rasmussen also suggests other ways that the scandals may be starting to drag the president.
For example, at Rasmussen Reports we regularly ask voters which party they trust to deal with a range of issues including government ethics and corruption. Before the scandals broke, Democrats had an 8-point advantage on this particular issue. But there has been a 10-point swing, and the GOP now has a 2-point edge.
Among unaffiliated voters, Republicans enjoy a 23-point advantage on the ethics front. Before the controversies, it was a toss-up.
The last week has seen serious slippage in the president’s numbers when it comes to national security. From the moment Obama took office, he has always received better ratings on national security matters than he did on the economy. However, just 39 percent of voters now give him good or excellent marks in this area. That’s down 7 points from a week ago and the lowest ratings he’s had on national security since Osama bin Laden was killed two years ago.
A lot has happened in two weeks, but in people’s lives, two weeks is a relatively short time. The non-info-junkies out there aren’t hanging on every word or nuance of the Obama scandals. But the totality of the scandals may be setting in.