After a pretty crappy few days, Democrats awoke to the nice surprise that Mitch McConnell would join Michele Bachmann at a press conference today, along with some tea partiers who were targeted (we are to believe inappropriately) by the IRS.
Why? Because Bachmann was likely to say something fringe and wacky like, say, that everyone keeps asking her why President Obama hasn’t been impeached already. Which is exactly what she did.
You could hear the crunch of McConnell’s intestines turning to ice from across the capital.
In a way the IRS controversy presents Republicans with the same challenge they’ve faced at every political fulcrum for four years now: Can they harness the tea party’s energy without becoming subsumed by it?
What makes this one different is that the whole thing’s playing out on terrain that’s incredibly favorable to Republicans from the get go. It provides them a rare crossover appeal opportunity. Nobody wants the IRS to be political. And if Republicans are able to walk the line between highlighting their own victimhood and standing against the malfeasance more generally, maybe they can benefit from the sympathy of their natural antagonists.
But almost nobody likes the tea party. Many of them won’t understand why tea party groups should be tax exempt, or won’t take too well to Republican special pleading on the tea party’s behalf. And if they allow the right to turn the IRS scandal into a Tea Party Grievance, they’ll own all the hyperbole and unintended consequences that flow forth from that identity, and lose the issue.
Which is probably why the notorious RINOs at National Review are urging Republicans to proceed with caution.