Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Opportunities for the GOP?

Recent events give Republicans, particularly on the congressional level, the potential to score some serious political points over the next week on three key issues: immigration, executive privilege, and health care.

The opportunity exists to portray the Obama Administration as both imperially arrogant and completely ineffective, which would position the GOP well for advances in the November elections. However, some of ways this opportunity could play out are counter-intuitive, and there is real danger the GOP could be outmaneuvered by congressional Democrats on these issues heading into November.

Here is our analysis of the current landscape:


On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned most of a controversial Arizona statute aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in that state. The statute gave police the power to detain illegal immigrants suspected of having committed a deportable defense, and it made it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to look for work.

The Arizona statute has been a rallying point for people (including many in the GOP base) who claim we need tougher illegal immigration laws. With most of the statute nullified, House Republicans should act quickly to propose reforms on a national level that would crack down on illegal immigration and facilitate the path to citizenship for those who come to this country legally. If the GOP acts first, House Republicans can blame Senate Democrats all the way to November for failing to address the issue.

But, there's more. The Supreme Court's ruling is a double-whammy to those concerned about illegal immigration. It comes just one week after President Obama announced that his administration will grant work permits to about 800,000 undocumented students instead of deporting them (for the sake of comparison, this figure is roughly the same size as the entire population of San Francisco).

The GOP needs to tie the President's announcement and the Arizona statute together to demonstrate that there has been a profound lack of lack of leadership and enforcement by President Obama on the immigration issue, going so far as to unilaterally order his administration to grant amnesty to those who are in the country illegally. If nothing else, this is a policy decision that should be made by Congress, not by an imperial president. The GOP needs to use make the President look arrogant and selfish, bent on pushing his ultra-liberal agenda through Congress at any cost – and willing to go right around Congress if he fails.

Executive Privilege

This notion of an imperial presidency is one that carries forward to the next issue, due to come up later this week – contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder.

Last week, the House Committee on Regulatory Oversight voted to recommend that Congress hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for his failure to produce documents related to the "Fast and Furious" program. And, most important for political purposes, the decision came just hours after the White House announced its assertion of "executive privilege" on the issue.

In order to successfully prosecute contempt charges, Republicans will be forced to concentrate on the details of the charges themselves and the underlying evidence. But if they focus too much on those factors, they risk getting caught up in the weeds. And, they will be doing so in an environment where the American public generally tends to hold a greater sense of disdain for Congress than for the President.

Democrats are likely to retreat to two strategic arguments. First, they will argue (as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already started to argue) that Congress is too focused on the minutiae of the Fast and Furious investigation while it is ignoring more important issues like unemployment and the economy. These arguments are simple for the public to understand and they have public appeal. Second, Democrats will argue that this fixation on Fast and Furious stems from a Republican Congress fixated on election year politics to remove the President from office. And, then there is the possibility that the White House could waive portions of the privilege just prior to the contempt proceedings in a token gesture aimed at making the issue appear to be much ado about nothing.

In order to reclaim the issue, Republicans will need to set the agenda straight.

First, the GOP needs to focus on the President's assertion of executive privilege and portray it as an unconstitutional attempt to cover up evidence of a failed program. The use of executive privilege elevates the failures of Fast and Furious right up to the White House itself. (Sorry, President Obama, but as they always say, if you break it, you buy it.) The issue needs to be the use of privilege, not the program itself.

Second, the GOP needs to keep the focus on other issues, including Democrats' unwillingness to advance a budget through Congress for several years and the skyrocketing national debt under President Obama. They need to make the White House look like the ones who have impeded Congress' attempts to fix things, not the other way around. Notwithstanding all of these subjects, the economy remains the number one issue in this election and the Republicans' best chance of winning the White House in 2012.

Health Care

The third big issue is health care.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court is expected to release its opinion on the constitutionality of the health care reform bill now dubbed "Obamacare," including the bill's so-called individual mandate provision.

On its face, a rejection of the statute by the Supreme Court would appear to be a major victory to Republicans who have opposed the reform bill all along and called for its repeal.

However, we think it would actually be most advantageous to the GOP if Obamacare is upheld by the Supreme Court this week. Democrats would argue such a ruling would validate the President's advocacy for health care reform in the face of GOP opposition. However, it would also serve as a rallying point for a strong coalition of Americans, including many in the GOP base, to go to the polls in November and elect Republicans to Congress so they can repeal the law legislatively. (To see an example of how the issue can motivate the base and favor a GOP candidate, look no further than the special election that sent Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts in 2010.)

If, instead, the Supreme Court does strike down Obamacare, the GOP will claim victory and seize on an apparent repudiation of the President and his politics. But, such a ruling would leave the GOP with two problems. First, Democrats across the country will use the issue as a reason to re-elect President Obama and to regain control of the House so they can protect liberal policies. And, with the President's approval ratings low and his list of successes scant, the last thing the GOP wants right now is a newly-energized Democratic base in November. Two, the rejection of Obamacare would (rightfully) shift attention back to the GOP for answers to the question of how health care ought to be reformed. At least right now, the GOP seems to have few answers to this important question.

We're fascinated to see how all of this is going to play out over the next week to ten days. Stay tuned for more updates – summer politics are finally heating up!