Republicans Turn Up IRS Rhetoric As Elections Loom

Who needs a smoking gun?

Congressional Republicans are trying to re-kindle the IRS tea party targeting controversy just as the 2014 election season gears up — but some GOP strategists are warning them to tread cautiously.

The eight-month-old scandal, which led President Barack Obama to push out the acting IRS chief, has been dormant for months: No hearings and no big breakthroughs have linked the White House to the agency’s mistreatment of conservative social welfare groups.

Yet now, Republicans are again revving up the partisan rhetoric. They’re decrying administrative efforts to “stifle conservative voices,” and questioning the FBI’s IRS probe because one investigator was found to be an Obama donor.

GOP strategists said Republicans are obviously capitalizing on an easy issue for the election season. Vilification of the IRS has always energized the base.

“The IRS represents everything base Republicans hate about government,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “If they want to take the Senate in 2014, they’ll have to jazz up the base in every way possible.”

O’Connell believes the GOP concern about Bosserman is legitimate, but he said Republicans could overplay the issue if they politicize the IRS scandal too much.

“If you drive the stake home too hard, obviously you can hurt yourself,” O’Connell said, pointing to Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose “trumpeting ‘IRS!’ like a college fight song turned some people off.

On Thursday, the Justice Department refused the panel’s summons of Bosserman because, as Holder told Cruz earlier this week, the department cannot comment on ongoing investigations.

“This is ‘gotcha politics’ at its finest,” O’Connell said of the summons, noting that the GOP probably knew they’d get such a response.

But these details don’t really matter in elections, experts said.

“Perception is reality in politics, not the actual reality,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Rachel Bade at Politico

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Analysis & Political Strategy