A majority of Americans approve of the job President Obama's doing and think he's focused on issues that are important to them, even though a majority also think the IRS intentionally singled out conservative groups for harassment, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.
Why is Obama doing so well in "scandal season"? It might be the economy, stupid. The biggest majority since 2009 — 56 percent — say the economy is getting better. Most Americans are optimistic about the direction the economy's heading. Obama beats congressional Republicans by 9 percentage points on who is better to handle the economy. In his 2008 campaign, Obama suggested he'd be a different kind of politician than Bill Clinton was and in The New York Times on Sunday, Maureen Dowd complained that "No Drama Obama" was nowhere near as good at handling scandals as Clinton was. But it's possible Obama might survive scandals the same way Clinton did.
The economy was doing great in 1998, when it became clear that Clinton had had an affair with a White House intern. The unemployment rate had dropped to 4.5 percent, and it would drop further in 1999 and 2000. Clinton's approval ratings were high throughout impeachment. As political scientists point out every election year, a president's fate is largely based on the public's perception of the economy. So when poll numbers show Obama's approval ratings staying strong despite the scandals, it's wrong to say they've had no impact, as The New York Times' Nate Silver explains. When the public thinks Obama's handling the economy well, they tend to approve of the job he's doing over all. But based on the economic numbers, you'd actually expect Obama's approval rating to be a couple points higher, Silver writes. It's possible that the trio of scandals have cost Obama "two or three percentage points, but that the economy has lifted his numbers by about the same amount."
While many Republicans are giddy that Democrats look to be in trouble, Ramesh Ponnuru writes at Bloomberg View, those who were around Washington in the '90s are nervous the party will make the same mistakes it made in 1998. Clinton's impeachment cost Republicans in the midterm elections, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich lost his job. And yet, he says, not everyone has learned their lesson:
You would expect that Senator Lindsey Graham, who helped to lead the impeachment proceedings against Clinton, had learned to be cautious in pursuing a scandal. Yet he decided to tie the Benghazi investigation explicitly to the 2016 presidential race, saying that the controversy would doom Hillary Clinton. If Graham were a Democratic plant trying to make the investigation look like a merely partisan exercise, he couldn’t have done better.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has floated the idea of impeaching Obama, and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz wouldn't rule it out last week. Obama might be silently cheering them on, but he should cheer on the economy even more.