Is There Time for the GOP to Recover from Foley Scandal?

Mickey Kaus thinks that, in today’s climate, the fact that the Foley sex scandal has broken four weeks before the election is good news for the GOP:

The Feiler Faster Thesis is the Republicans’ friend at this point. […] There’s also the Densepack Theory–the anti-GOP media have launched so many damaging GOP stories–see Josh Marshall’s list— that they are all arriving at once and, like fratricidal incoming ICBMs, are knocking each other out of the news rather than destroying their target!

Mark Coffey makes a similar point, noting that the much-touted Dick Cheney hunting accident in February has been all but forgotten.

Interesting points, to be sure, but I think they’re wrong. On the surface, aside from the issue of whether Hastert and company covered up Foley’s crimes for political reasons, there’s no scandal here that touches the party. There are plenty of creeps on both sides of the aisle and I don’t hold Cynthia McKinney or Tom William Jefferson’s personal transgressions against the Democrats.

Like the drip-drip-drip of stories suggesting that George Allen is a racist, however, these stories feed into a pre-existing media meme. The Foley scandal may well crystalize in the public’s mind the idea that the Republican leadership is corrupt, hypocritical, and inept. Given how many loyal Republican pundits already thought that, it’s not a far leap to think that undecided voters (a/k/a “clueless morons”) might get the same idea.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Well, Mickey’s dead wrong (as usual), but for different reasons than what you point out. It’s already becoming clear that a _lot_ of people in GOP House leadership knew about this and deliberately sat on it for _years_. The people involved know being linked to this scandal spells Doom-with-a-capital-D, so you can expect facts to be slowly pried out of cold dead hands for the next several weeks – this _will_ last long enough to impact the election.

    And James, take a real close look: DeLay, Foley, Hastert, Frist, Reynolds, etc., etc… it’s not a _meme_ that’s being fed here, Republican leadership _really is_ corrupt, hypocritical, and inept. And while I’ll admit there’s no shortage of that on the Dem side of the aisle, the current crop of crooks running this country makes the Keystone Kops look like a model of efficiency…

  2. For months I have read articles and posts about the major issues of the day and the associated opinions, suggestions and commentary of the authors. And here we go again. One month from the mid term elections and the “public debate”, if there is one right now, has moved to scandal, negative campaigns and other meaningless gibberish.
    Both major parties are rather impotent and probably embrace distractions to avoid major issues like war, health care, education, foreign policy, etc.
    Whatever the results of the mid term elections, it is unlikely anyone will present a convincing argument for any candidates win or loss. I suspect party faithful will vote party and independents will be close to an even split due to no inspiring message in the campaigns.
    It’s been a long run for the GOP in Congress yet there seems to be no singleness of purpose. I still view the Foley story as a distraction with a limited effect on the elections. Since by law, Foley’s name remains on the ballot and his replacement is not on the ballot, it would be no surprise if the opponent won. The public’s short memory and a subsequent story should be enough to limit damage to the GOP.

  3. I think one key point is that the MSM, where most people continue to get their news, is going to be playing this up.

    Imagine the political climate if there were three conservative quotes for every liberal quoted in a story. If stories routinely said democrats were hypocritical for supporting the use of force resolution, but now want to cut and run. If every story about terrorism mentioning NSA intercepts, patriot act, financial tracking, pointed out that if they had been in place before 2001, we might have stopped the attacks before the occurred. If that was happening (aka the press was cheer leading for the GOP as hard as they did for the democrats), then the GOP would be winning in overwhelming numbers.

    So the MSM not distinguishing between the emails (do you really want to live in a world where any friendly email to a youth is punishable by losing your job) and the IM (which look to be at least indictable if not convict-able for criminal activity) means the story will continue. The other story on who was holding on to the IM until October, thus shielding a child predator, is getting little to no play.

    So I think the scandal will have legs through the election, not because of the details of the scandal, but because it serves the MSM preference for democrats to keep the scandal running.

  4. Anderson says:

    My two cents: fire Hastert today, and the scandal’s long gone by Election Day. As long as he hangs on, the scandal lingers.

    What do you Repubs think?

  5. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Since I was calling for dumping Hastert and Frist yesterday morning, I’m game.

  6. Anderson says:

    Yeah, we’re always told “oh, we can’t fire Rumsfeld/Hastert/whomever b/c that would show weakness!”

    I don’t buy that. It’s self-serving rhetoric that conveniently serves those who should be fired.

    The Repubs could gain a lot from being seen to “clean house”; I think that would reassure a lot of voters who lean Republican but are afraid this particular bunch of jokers is out of control.

    So, I hope they don’t do it! 😉

  7. madmatt says:

    Yes I can see why you would be worried about people figuring out the truth and your “clueless morons” comment clearly shows your big tent principles….what they don’t qualify as republicans until they steal from the public and molest a child?

  8. How about the GOP goes on the offensive. Any gay person who sends an email to a youth must immediately lose their job. That would show they are serious about the issue.

  9. Anderson says:

    Hm, I missed “clueless morons” … thanks, Matt.

    Surely, a lot of voters are undecided b/c the party they usually support, the Republican, is having such a hard time. Those would be clued-in voters.

    The truly uninformed, undecided “voter” isn’t likely to vote at all. Either you have some notion what’s going on & it gets you to the polls, or you vote “D” or “R” by rote, in which case you’re quite decided.

  10. James Joyner says:


    I agree, most “undecided voters” are actually non-voters. And that’s a good thing. Frankly, anyone with any business voting has likely pretty much made up their mind by this point.

    I grant that there is probably some small fraction of reasonably bright people who usually vote for one party but are sufficiently torn by the issues and politics of the day that they are waiting until the last minute to decide whether to hold their nose and vote for their team, not vote, or actually switch sides.

    I refer to the type of people who decide for whom to vote based on a sermon at their church the Sunday before election, seeing someone’s name on a bumper sticker, thinking an ad is particularly funny, or other such matters.

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anderson, I am all for it, if you dump Pelosi for keeping Jefferson on. Foley, while his acts are reprehensible, because the age of concent in Washington DC is 16 years old, probably did not commit a crime. Jefferson on the otherhand did commit a crime and is still holding his seat. Were are your friends in NAMBLA and the ACLU when you need them?

  12. If nothing else, I’m sure calling undecided voters ‘clueless morons’ more often will get them to come around to the Republican way of thinking.

  13. Wayne says:

    Lets open up everyone’s e-mails to pages and interns and see how they compare to Foleys. Many MSM knew of the e-mail portion for a long time.

    The GOP can benefit by this if the RNC runs ads comparing what happens when GOP members is caught in a scandals compare to what happens to Democrats caught in scandals.

    They can show Foley leaving carrying a box while Democrat Studds who had sex with underage male page getting a standing ovation.

  14. just me says:

    I don’t think the media can carp on this too much-unless some other bigger revelation happens, I think too much coverage may actually hurt either dems or more likely just keep the apathetic and almost apathetic at home.

    I think those who are already peeved at the GOP may view it as a last straw, but they were voting the other way anyway. I think those who intend to vote for their congressman, probably won’t change their vote unless he is connected to the actual issue (ie Foley, and maybe some of the leaders) I just don’t see them thinking “hey Foley was coming on to Pages, I bet my congressman is to, so I won’t vote for him/her.”

    I think it comes back to the politics is local, and unless this scandal touches them locally, I am not sure it translates into more votes for the dems or fewer votes for the GOP. I am willing to bet Foley’s vote goes DNC on this issue only.

    I think in the end, it turns into another “they are all as bad as the other, I am just going to stay home” type election.