Despite my suggestions to the contrary, the Blagojevich scandal has failed to damage Barack Obama. After several weeks of coverage, approval of his job performance and his transition efforts remains very high (via Yglesias).
Meanwhile, the Republicans are struggling to coordinate on an anti-Obama message that would change the flow of political information to the public, as Adam Nagourney reports in the Times today:
It’s not so easy being the loyal opposition these days.
Almost two months after Barack Obama’s election, Republicans are struggling to figure out how — or even whether — to challenge or criticize him as he prepares to assume the presidency.
The president-elect is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target. He has defied efforts to be framed ideologically. His cabinet picks have won wide praise. An effort by the Republican National Committee to link Mr. Obama to the unfolding scandal involving Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and his alleged attempt to barter for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat was dismissed by no less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican Mr. Obama beat for the presidency.
The toughest criticism of Mr. Obama during this period — in fact, the real only criticism of him during this period — has come not from the right but from the left, primarily over his selection of the Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who is a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.
There are plenty of battles ahead that may provide Republicans with an opportunity to find their footing. They will no doubt find arguments to use against Mr. Obama when, for example, he starts to lay out the details of his economic stimulus plans. While Mr. Obama is the beneficiary of the kind of post-election honeymoon Washington has not seen in at least 16 years, honeymoons tend to end.
Still, this display of Republican uncertainty is testimony to the political skills of the incoming president, and a reminder of just how difficult a situation the Republican Party is in. More than that, though, members of both parties say, it is evidence of the unusual place the country is in: buoyed by the prospect of the inauguration of a president who appears to enjoy great favor with the public, while at the same time deeply worried about the country’s future. It is going to be complicated making a case against Mr. Obama, many Republicans said, in an environment where people want him to succeed and may not have much of an appetite for partisan politics.
Contrary to Nagourney, there is likely to be little comparison between Obama's first months in office and the experience of Bill Clinton, who entered office with approval ratings in the 50s and quickly came under attack from Republicans. Obama is already in the high 60s before the inauguration and the resulting flow of positive coverage and goodwill, which may push his approval ratings into the low 70s. The last president to have a honeymoon of that magnitude was Jimmy Carter more than thirty years ago.
Nagourney's analysis parallels similar articles written about Democrats after 9/11, when President Bush enjoyed the equivalent of an extended honeymoon. But what's most striking about the article is this newfound Republican reticence about hardball politics. For someone like me who grew up in the Clinton/Bush era, there has never been a time in which Republicans were this nervous about attacking Democrats. It's a complete inversion of the (supposed) rules of the Reagan-Gingrich-Bush era -- the political equivalent of the apple flying up into Newton's tree.