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No Democratic Stampede From Shinseki Yet — But Stay Tuned

May 27, 2014
Originally published on May 28, 2014 1:19 pm

The good news for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is that there isn't yet an outright stampede of Democrats away from him, even as some call for his resignation.

The bad news is that doesn't mean there won't be.

Just last week, the retired four-star general caught up in the scandal over reports that dozens of vets died in Phoenix while awaiting VA care saw several Democratic Senate candidates and some sitting House members call for his resignation.

Michelle Nunn, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Natalie Tennant, Democrats running for U.S. Senate seats from Georgia, Kentucky and West Virginia, respectively, have called for the general to step down, as have several center-right Democratic House members from states like Georgia and Iowa.

Fortunately for Shinseki, both President Obama and sitting Senate Democrats, even those in tough, red-state re-election fights, have either expressed support or are so far keeping their own counsel.

But that could all change in a political instant. If lawmakers heard over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and continue to hear in the days and weeks to come, from enough unhappy constituents, there could be a bandwagon effect.

Neil Oxman, a Democratic political consultant whose firm, The Campaign Group, has worked on numerous congressional campaigns, says the controversy hasn't yet reached the stage where a decisive number of voters are telling lawmakers they want his resignation. And it may not.

But if calls grow for his resignation, it's not like Shinseki is a household name with a huge base of popular support either.

"There's no downside in asking for his resignation," Oxman told It's All Politics. He said that if a client with many veterans in his district told him he wanted to ask for Shinseki's resignation, he wouldn't hesitate to agree to it.

"Nobody has a stake in this guy," Oxman say. "There's no constituency. It doesn't matter if anybody asks for his resignation. If you're a member of Congress or you're running for Congress and you ask for his resignation, what clamor is there going to be in your congressional district or in your state that people are going to be angry with you because you asked for his resignation? There's none. He has no fan club."

How could that be? Isn't this the same Shinseki who was a hero to Democrats when the general very publicly broke with Donald Rumsfeld, then-President George W. Bush's defense secretary, by telling Congress that it would take far more U.S. troops to successfully occupy Iraq then Rumsfeld had allocated?

Yes, it is, says Oxman. But that doesn't matter now. Politics is always about the next election.

For instance, if dumping on Shinseki helps some Democratic candidates distance themselves from the Obama administration, better positioning them to win election or re-election, so be it.

Unlike with other generals in U.S. history who had their own political bases — George McClellan during the Civil War or Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War come to mind — forcing Shinseki out doesn't raise fears of paying a political price.

If it happens, the irony would be, of course, that Shinseki would have the dubious distinction of being forced from not just a Republican administration but a Democratic one too.

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