If I were an ambitious Republican in Congress, I would focus on the one truly egregious scandal of President Barack Obama's administration.
It's not the White House response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya. The smart money is already fleeing that one. It's not the Internal Revenue Service episode, either. The IRS went off the rails, and Republicans will get political mileage from it. But the notion that White House political staff would direct IRS employees to crack down on citizen Tea Party groups is more than dubious. Democrats have had no greater allies in securing their Senate majority or in undermining Republican credibility by transforming the House of Representatives into bedlam.
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to ignore a scandal situated at the convenient corner of political expedience and moral righteousness.
Sexual assault in the military has been aptly described as "epidemic." As Bloomberg View has noted:
The number of such assaults reported by members of the military increased 6 percent in 2012, to 3,374. Still more disconcerting was an anonymous survey suggesting that as many as 26,000 service members were actually attacked last year; the last such poll in 2010 produced an estimate of 19,000. Many victims have too little faith in the military’s justice system to come forward.
These are people, mostly women, who have volunteered to serve in the U.S. military and have been repaid with sexual harassment and violence from their fellow service members. Unlike the IRS, which is an independent agency insulated from the White House, the military chain of command leads directly to the Oval Office. Obama is commander-in-chief.
What has the president done about it? For four years, not much.
Handed the opportunity to do substantive good on sexual assaults in the military while advancing their own political interests, Republicans have instead mounted the barricades of Fast and Furious and Benghazi. They've let Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, take the lead on the military issue, with support from Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. A party dominated and defined by conservative white men from the South and Plains has ceded the issue to a moderate woman from the Northeast who voted for Obama's stimulus.
If your party had just nominated Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for Senate seats, you might want to think a bit harder about that. If your 2012 presidential candidate received 44 percent of votes cast by women -- who happen to be a majority of the electorate -- you might want to forego another round of grenade launches from the grassy knoll in favor of tackling a genuine crisis.
The press, too, has limited interest in the sexual assault scandal. Republicans at least have the excuse of being in thrall to their fringe. What's the press's excuse? If 26,000 sexual assaults are insufficient to command attention, how many does it take?
With its focus on the loudest partisan braying, the press is too distracted to focus on the troops' interests. And the GOP is too blinkered to pursue its own.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)