Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the ugliest of them all?
The most recent Fox News poll indicates that Americans see the Republican congressional majority as materially more corrupt and more responsible for the current spate of scandals than the Democrats. Indeed, the building sense of popular anger against the GOP resembles nothing more than the last congressional scandal — the bounced-check congressional bank affair of 1991 — in its political impact. But that scandal paved the way for Newt Gingrich’s takeover of Congress three years later. This scandal may undo the Republicans.
Generic cynicism about Washington is nothing new. Fox News poll respondents said that they felt that “most elected officials in Washington make policy decisions or take actions as a direct result of money they receive from major campaign contributors” by 65-21. Nothing new there. Because distrust of Congress is usually visited equally on both parties, it normally has no political impact.
But this scandal is different. With Republicans so completely in control of the government, this scandal is theirs. Asked “which political party in Washington” is “more corrupt,” respondents to the Jan. 11 survey said the Republicans are by 33-15. (Forty percent said both were equally dishonest). Independents, the vital element in any potential Republican majority, rate the GOP as the more corrupt by 23-5.
The scandal also seems to be spawning a reaction quite different from the usual cynicism in that it appears to be visited on each district’s local representative. While voters typically deride Congress as a whole, they usually speak highly of their own members. But not this time. Asked if “your own congressional representative has ever taken money or things of value in return for voting a certain way,” voters said yes by 42-33, with Democrats and Republicans equally likely to think so.
Because this scandal is both partisan and local it will have a searing political impact. Nor should the recipients of Abramoff’s dubious generosity dismiss their acceptance of his donations by saying it doesn’t matter because everybody took his money.
Those who did get contributions from him are in for an Election Day surprise. Forty-four percent of the Fox News survey respondents said that if “an elected official from your state took a campaign contribution from Jack Abramoff or organizations that he represented” it would be a “major” factor in deciding whether to vote for him in the next election. Even 31 percent of Republicans felt this way.