In every election cycle a point arrives when political strategists begin to perceive the shape of things to come. At first it’s just a will-o-the-wisp, a distant rumble, a scent on the wind. Gradually it begins to take on form and substance and become something that can be recognized, labelled, and turned to advantage.
We are just at the cusp of that process right now…and the emerging impression is not good for the Republican party. A lot of straws in the wind are not blowing their way right now. First, we have the outright facts about Republican performance since the “tsunami” of 2010, and what all those new lawmakers have done with the power given them by voters. They campaigned on bringing jobs to Americans, but there is no public impression that they have been governing with jobs as a goal. Instead the country sees the GOP preoccupied at the state level with things like preventing the sinister threat of Sharia law in the South and the Midwest, passing “birther laws” requiring candidates for public office to produce birth certificates (or proof of circumcision), and introducing multiple bills making it more difficult for women to obtain legal abortions.
This preoccupation with social and religious issues has not escaped notice from a public that presently cares far more about pocketbook issues than anything else. And that public disenchantment has in turn not escaped potential GOP presidential candidates, who are showing a notable reluctance to get into the race. By this time in the past cycle, 17 Republican candidates had formally declared. (The only major undeclared candidate was Fred Thompson, but even he had formed an exploratory committee.) Their hesitation is understandable, since a recent NYT/CBS poll shows that when Republicans are asked which of the potential candidates they find most exciting, 56% choose “No One.” Next highest is Mitt Romney with 9%. Those numbers do not bode well for Republicans in 2012.
They are also being badly damaged by the long-simmering “birther” issue, which has finally been dragged out into the open by Donald Trump’s much-publicized flirtation with a presidential run. This issue (and its widespread support within the GOP rank-and-file) threatens to paint the party as extreme and non-serious, at precisely the time when they need to appear like “grown-ups” who can handle huge fiscal problems and make wise decisions on foreign policy. Unless Republicans can woo independents and some Democrats, they cannot do well in 2012. But the polls show the birther meme turns both those groups off and overall repels far more voters than it attracts…a fatal statistic for the GOP, whose manic hatred of Barack Obama makes it all but impossible for them to leave the issue alone, even when urged to do so by party strategists.
Most serious of all for Republicans is their disastrously rigid positioning on the most important fiscal issues facing the nation. The party has gone all-in for Paul Ryan’s budget, voting 235–4 in favor. This vote is going to cost many of them dearly, and a large number of Republican legislators are already struggling to explain it to their constituents. Democratic strategists are universally baffled over this, and keep asking each other, “Why did they do it? Are they nuts? It was crazy for them to cast that vote.” But ideology can be a powerful drug.
The Ryan plan contains two widely unpopular provisions. One is a complete retooling of Medicare, a proposal that is opposed by even 70% of Tea Party members. And the Tea Partiers are not alone in their rejection of Ryan’s plan. Ninety-two percent of Democrats opposed cutting Medicare and Medicaid, as did 73% of Republicans and 75% of independents. The survey only broke down the age of respondents into two categories—above or below 45 years-old—and found that both groups opposed the proposed cuts by a similar margin. Respondents under 45 years old opposed the cuts by an 82/17% split, while older respondents opposed them by an 80/18% split. These are truly scary numbers for Republicans.
Even more sobering for Republican lawmakers, who supported the Ryan plan almost unanimously, is the widespread, furious opposition to the other major provision in the Ryan budget…further tax cuts for the rich. The public is not only opposed to such tax cuts; they overwhelmingly support raising taxes on the upper income brackets. In a recent Washington Post/AP poll, a majority of all demographics and political adherents supported such a policy. 54% of Republicans favored increased taxes for upper-income earners, along with 68% of independents and 72% of Democrats. As for the high-earners themselves…they supported an increase in their own taxes by a margin of 61% to 34%.
Perhaps there is still time for the GOP to turn things around somehow and create a more favorable political climate for themselves going into the heat of the election. But none of the political indications look good for them at the moment. The fervor of the Tea Party has dissipated and nothing has emerged to replace it. Their presidential candidate field looks weak, with every possible choice having serious, possibly mortal flaws. Their record on jobs is not impressive. An uneasy, impatient public is clamoring for them to back down on their most cherished ideological principles: cutting taxes and entitlements. And the birther madness is making them look scary and extreme to most voters.
It’s just not a very good time to be an elephant.
- ‘Birther’ Claims Force GOP Leaders To Take A Stand (huffingtonpost.com)
- Republicans scramble to distrance themselves from birthers (capitolhillblue.com)
- ‘Birther’ claims force GOP leaders to take a stand (troyrecord.com)
- Birtherism Now Mainstream for Republican Party Amid More Signs of Trump Entry (themoderatevoice.com)
- Dems, GOP alike cringe at Trump, but he’s gaining steam – Anchorage Daily News (news.google.com)
- ‘Birther’ claims force GOP leaders to take a stand (msnbc.msn.com)