Republicans Can't Say That Obama Was Behind the IRS' Tea Party Campaign, but Pollsters Can

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 18 2013 9:41 AM

Republicans Can't Say That Obama Was Behind the IRS' Tea Party Campaign, but Pollsters Can

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Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Ohio, arrives at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on June 6, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Last night, on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News' most beloved host asked House Oversight dragonslayer Trey Gowdy about the latest in the IRS story.

"Do you think this was orchestrated by the Democratic Party or the White House?" asked O'Reilly.
 
"Well, I don't have any evidence to support that," said Gowdy, a onetime Slate columnist. "I can tell you this. One place we ought to be looking is the—is the Obama/Biden re-elect. Not just the White House but their re-election team. I like to deal in evidence. I can't prove to you that it goes to the White House. I can tell you this—I don't think two rogue agents in Cincinnati concocted this scheme on their own."

That was a long-winded and innuendo-laden way of saying "uh, not really." Because "not really" isn't the current line. After four weeks in the news, the IRS scandal is still the tentpole of the "scandal-plagued Obama administration" story line. Republicans have failed to prove that the White House ordered the IRS' nosy questionnaires of Tea Party applicants for nonprofit status, but they've piled on accusations. Briefly:

  • The White House and Democrats had berated giant conservative 501 groups like Americans for Prosperity for their tax-exempt status, and asked the IRS to investigate this. Republicans have tied those requests to the scrutiny of small, startup Tea Party groups—which the Democrats were never worried about. "Why did the IRS target these groups?" bellowed the NRSC in a recent attack. "According to the New York Times, because Senate Democrats like Jeanne Shaheen pressured them to."
  • The White House was told of the coming IG report on targeting three weeks before it was released. In the FUD of half-remembered news stories, this delay has been remembered as some kind of cover-up.

The result: a new CNN poll that gets this trendline.

Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 9.33.13 AM

Republican strategists spent part of the morning crowing and sending around those numbers. They're not just good—they're counter to the trend exemplified by Gowdy. It's gotten progressively tougher to argue factually that the White House ordered the targeting. As Josh Green reported last week, House investigators are simultaneously denying a Democratic request to release full transcripts of witness interviews and trying to widen the investigation to find out whether the White House ordered audits of Republican donors. (Romney super PAC donor Frank Vander Sloot has claimed for a year that he was targeted for audits.) Republicans are betting that the media drumbeat overwhelms the rest of the music. Sound bet.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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