Toss a pebble into a lake and the ripples spread far and wide. Lob a scandal, in which the anti-tax tea party is under attack by its nemesis, the Internal Revenue Service, into the shark-infested waters of Washington, and well, the political ramifications are huge.
Whatever comes of the investigations into the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of conservative groups in the 2012 election cycle, this much appears certain: the scandal will unite conservatives, invigorate the tea party, and potentially affect the 2014 midterm elections.
Here are five ways the IRS scandal will change Washington:
1) Invigorate the tea party and its small-government movement
For thousands of tea party members across the nation, it’s an “I told you so” moment. You have to admit the scandal is perfectly scripted. Big government, and taxes in particular, are the movement’s central grievance. Heck, the group even takes its name from the Boston Tea Party, the iconic historical protest against unfair taxation.
How perfect, then, that the latest scandal to hit Washington confirms the tea party’s anti-big government, anti-tax, anti-IRS crusade. What’s more, it confirms countless complaints by tea party groups and allegations by right-leaning websites like The Blaze that the IRS was going after conservative groups.
In Washington, the tea party had been losing its luster almost ever since the shining glory of the 2010 midterms. The IRS scandal could be the rallying cry of a reinvigorated movement.
2) Unite conservatives
The GOP’s 2012 election square dance – two steps to the right in the primary, one step to the left in the general election – exposed a rift between the Republican Party and its conservative base, one that’s only widened as the party is forced to reconsider issues like gay marriage and immigration.
Yet, as every tactician knows, nothing unites like a common enemy. As such, the IRS scandal unleashed a golden opportunity for conservatives.
“The accusations of IRS abuse are sure to fuel an effort that appears to be uniting dispirited Republicans and their conservative political base: investigating Mr. Obama and his administration,” The New York Times reported Monday. “Republicans are pushing a portrayal of an administration overreaching its authority and punishing its enemies.”
Enemies that are sure to leverage the situation to their advantage.
3) Impact midterm elections
Yes, believe it or not, it’s true. If conservatives can sustain, even strengthen, that unity, and launch a big-government attack on Democrats, the IRS scandal could influence the 2014 midterm elections.
In a recent column, political polling guru Nate Silver predicts the IRS debacle “could have a substantial political impact,” and has “the potential to harm Democrats’ performance in next years’ midterm elections, partly by motivating a strong turnout from the Republican base.”
He uses a five-point test to argue that the scandal “has legs”: it can be described in one sentence, cuts to the core of a candidate or party’s brand, and reinforces a negative perception about a candidate, among other points.
Expect reverberations in 2014.
4) Invigorate the tax code reform movement
For years advocacy groups and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle – from Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana to libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas – have advocated for tax reform. It’s an uphill, if not vertiginous, climb and a goal that has remained elusive for decades.
If they’re smart, lawmakers and tax advocacy groups will use the IRS scandal – and its revelations about tax code loopholes (recall that 501(c)(4)s are often used by political groups to avoid paying taxes and to hide donors) – to invigorate their cause.
Ambitious? Yes. But given the current climate in Washington, the timing couldn’t be better.
5) Derail bipartisan cooperation
Alas, as if partisan bickering and congressional gridlock weren’t enough, the IRS fiasco throws another wrench into legislative wrangling on issues like gun control, immigration, and the debt ceiling debate.
“The IRS developments couldn’t come at a worse time for the White House, which has spent months courting GOP support for everything from gun control to an overhaul of immigration laws,” it reported. “If the administration’s recent GOP charm offensive bought any goodwill, it seems to be on short supply now.”
Or, as the Washington Post said, “We aren’t likely to see Republicans and Democrats in Congress join hands and sing Kumbaya any time soon.”