Republican Party is trying to figure out how to reunify. With the GOP
polling at historic lows, it won’t be easy.
a Democrat.” — might well apply to the GOP today.
Its failure to win anything out of the recent 16-day federal shutdown
and threat of government default revealed the sharp and widening split
between Republican congressional leadership and the politically potent
Tea Party minority.
This is evident in new polling by the Pew Research Center, which shows
how and why that split should be troubling for the party as it looks
ahead to future fights with the Obama administration and the
Democrat-controlled Senate, particularly since Tea Party types in
Congress — led by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas — are seen as
prime movers causing the shutdown and threat of default.
“The Tea Party is less popular than ever, with even many Republicans
now viewing the movement negatively. Overall, nearly half of the
public (49 percent) has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while
30 percent have a favorable opinion,” Pew reported this week. “The
balance of opinion toward the Tea Party has turned more negative since
June, when 37 percent viewed it favorably and 45 percent had an
unfavorable opinion. And the Tea Party’s image is much more negative
today than it was three years ago, shortly after it emerged as a
conservative protest movement against Barack Obama’s policies on
health care and the economy.”
Among moderate Republicans, according to this poll, views of the Tea
Party have dropped 19 points just since June — from 46 percent
favorable to 27 percent favorable today. An AP-Gfk poll showed that 70
percent of all voters now hold unfavorable views of the Tea Party.
There is a certain I-told-you-so tone in what senior Republican
lawmakers are saying these days.
“One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there’s no education in
the second kick of a mule,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)
of Kentucky said to The Hill newspaper this week once the dust had
begun to settle and the federal government got back to work.
“The first kick of a mule was when we shut the government down in the
mid-1990s [which cost the GOP House seats] and the second kick was
over the last 16 days,” he said. “There is no education in the second
kick of a mule. There will not be [another] government shutdown.”
“I think we have fully now acquainted our new members with what a
losing strategy that is,” McConnell added.
Those “new members,” of course are Senators Cruz and Mike Lee (R) of
Utah, as well as some three dozen Republican House members, who barged
ahead with efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) when
veteran lawmakers like Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona were warning
that that was an unwinnable battle. (A reminder of something the late,
great California lawmaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh once said:
“Sometimes you have to rise above principle.”)
Sen. McCain is part of what conservative New York Times columnist
David Brooks calls “the Republican reality caucus” — those who
understand how Washington politics traditionally works. They may be a
majority of GOP lawmakers, but many feel the hot breath of the Tea
Party in the form of threatened (or actual) primary election
challengers charging in from the right with no tendency to compromise
and a gleeful inclination to bust up the furniture on Capitol Hill.
They’ve seen what happened to such veteran senators as Richard Lugar
and Bob Bennett, both bounced from office by challengers claiming to
be more conservative. Sen. McConnell faces re-election next year, and
he already has a Tea Party-backed opponent. So does Sen. Thad Cochran
(R) of Mississippi. Sen. Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming — a conservative by
any rational analyst’s definition — is being challenged from the right
by Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president.
Bloomberg News reports that at least seven Republican senators face a
primary in the 2014 midterms.
“We’re going to shake things up in 2014,” Sarah Palin wrote on
Facebook the other day. “Let’s start with Kentucky — which happens to
be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi.” (Sen.
Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee also is seeking re-election.)
Perhaps. But it’s also true that polls tracking a generic House race
(by party, not specific candidate) do not bring good news for the GOP.
At the end of July, according to the combined surveys of some half
dozen organizations put together by the Huffington Post, Republicans
and Democrats each won about 39 percent of those polled. As of this
week, Democrats had shot ahead six points (45-39 percent).
The headline on a Bloomberg News piece Friday night — “Republican
Civil War Erupts: Business Groups v. Tea Party” — points to another
important part of the GOP’s fight with itself, which is business
groups mobilizing to defeat allies of the small-government movement.
“We are going to get engaged,” Scott Reed, senior political strategist
for the US Chamber of Commerce (which spent $35.7 million on federal
elections in 2012) told Bloomberg. “The need is now more than ever to
elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”