Why Another Round of Partisan Investigations Will Backfire on the GOP

Bill Scher

Republicans, resigned to losing the White House for the third time in a row, and for the fifth time in the last seven elections, are already planning to launch yet another round of partisan investigative witch hunts designed to hobble a Hillary Clinton presidency.

NBC News reported:

…dozens of House Republicans have demanded that a special prosecutor investigate the Clinton Foundation for possible conflicts of interest. Sen. Ted Cruz has called for a “serious criminal investigation” into a Democratic operative featured in a sting video by conservative activist James O’Keefe. And Speaker Paul Ryan promised “aggressive oversight work in the House” of an alleged “quid pro quo” deal between the FBI and the State Department over reclassifying an email on Clinton’s private server.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who would likely serve as the chief antagonist of a second Clinton White House as chair the House Oversight Committee, told Fox News last week the “quid pro quo” claim alone was worth at least “four new hearings,” claiming it was a “flashing red light of potential criminality.”

Both the FBI and State Department say no quid pro quo took place, and that the incident was a misunderstanding.

Rep. Chaffetz elaborated to the Washington Post:

It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.

Such adversarial talk unnerves Democrats, but Republicans are the ones who should worry. They have played scandal politics in the last two Democratic presidencies, and it backfired both times.

As I explained three years in an essay for The Week, scandal politics rarely reap political gains:

The Iran-Contra affair may be a blot on the Reagan record, but it didn’t propel Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis into the White House … the backlash from the [Bill Clinton] impeachment obsession allowed Democrats to pick up five House seats … During George W. Bush’s first term, Democrats sought to drive outrage surrounding the Abu Gharib torture scandal and, to a lesser extent, the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame … Bush ended up winning the [2004] popular vote … As for President Obama — the conservative cries of “Solyndra” and “Fast and Furious” failed to interrupt his march to a second term.

Why does scandal-mongering rarely help the mongers? Because it distracts from developing compelling policy ideas that can help earn votes. As I wrote last year in Real Clear Politics:

Since the George W. Bush presidency ended on the twin failures of the Iraq War and the market crash, Republicans have needed to regain credibility for their conservative worldview. Chasing Obama and Hillary Clinton scandals doesn’t help solve that problem.

Intellectual atrophy shrunk the Republican Party into a shell of its former shelf, making it ripe to be hijacked by a low-rent demagogue. Yet Republicans apparently still haven’t learned the lesson. So long as they continue digging for the scandal unicorn in the haystack, Democrats will have sole ownership of the policy mantle and remain the only party seen as a credible governing party.

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