There are lots of problems for the Republican Party on a national level these days. They just got crushed in an election in which the incumbent President presided over a weak economic recovery, high unemployment, and massive government deficits. The only thing that saved the party from irrelevancy were heavily gerrymandered districts preserving a majority in the House. Congressional ratings are around 15% approval and 80% disapproval while the President is over 50% in approval.
So, what do we make of this and why haven’t the Congressional GOP changed course to rectify the problem? For one, it’s partially a problem of the party’s ideas. The median voter has simply drifted from the current GOP platform whether it’s regards to taxes, immigration, gay rights, or rape (seriously, stop mentioning rape). Nearly 6 of 10 voters view the GOP as protecting the interests of the wealthy. At some point the Republicans are going to have to re-evaluate their positions and alter them more towards the center of American politics and then re-brand themselves in a more appealing way.
The second issue is they’ve largely become an obstructionist party with few new ideas. The American people did elect Barack Obama President of the United States twice and want Congress to compromise towards his agenda. Despite what the GOP wants you to believe, it’s why they elected him and why the GOP lost seats in both houses of Congress. Worse yet, the GOP has offered no actual alternatives to Obama’s agenda. They want trillions in spending cuts but barely get past $300 billion when being specific. Even the Ryan Budget plan is devoid of most specifics. Nobody actually knows how the Republicans would cut $1.5 trillion or more over 10 years, not even Republicans. This is probably because actual Republicans don’t want to cut anything. They’re going to have to come back to the negotiating table and this time with some fresh ideas. Unfortunately…
The most pressing concern for Congressional Republicans are Republicans! Only 1/3 of Republicans want the government to compromise according to the latest Pew Center poll. That statistic is all the more bizarre when they don’t want to cut any spending, either, which you would think would align them with Obama. This puts the Congressional Republicans in quite the quandary. If they don’t compromise with President Obama on most issues, the median voter is going to continue to be alienated and the GOP prospects for future national elections will remain dire. On the flip side, any compromise will upset most of their base. Heck, over 60% of Republicans think Congressional Republicans are out of touch with Republicans! This puts congressional Republicans at risk for being primaried and/or losing campaign contributions. And much of this is of their own doing. The Republicans, aided heavily by their pals in news radio and Fox News, have spent much of the past 5 years arguing Obama is the worst thing to come along since The Plague. They’ve painted him as anti-American, a Marxist, a dictator, a radical Muslim, Welfare King, and now gun confiscator to such an extent that it’s become the truth to many. And when you still lose the election despite such misinformation, you’re now stuck in a situation where you can’t compromise because you’ve educated your base so poorly that compromise is akin to treason. You have to oppose him even when the base agrees with him! So the Congressional GOP is stuck trying to figure out how to appeal to both the median voter and its own misinformed, extremist base which is basically impossible. So what’s a sad Boehner to do?
Well, what we saw during the Fiscal Cliff might actually become the norm. The House GOP will throw its hands up saying they can’t compromise but they’ll allow these bills to reach the floor because they can’t ruin America in the process. The vote will lie on the Democrats’ shoulders and the Republicans will appease their base by neutering itself. It’s their only way to tread water the next two to four years as they try to dig themselves out from the hole they’ve created. Maybe they’ll get lucky if the economy turns the corner, but this internal dilemma is the most important and interesting in American politics in some time.
Of Course, if Boehner needs a friend, the GOP can always Te’o one up.