You don’t need a thumb on Washington’s pulse to know the Republican brand is experiencing cardiac arrest.
A damning spate of October polls offers some insight into the damage incurred against the GOP’s image in recent months. A CNN/ORC poll revealed that 64% of Americans now say they hold an unfavorable view of the GOP. This was reiterated in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed 63% of Americans see the Republican Party in an unfavorable light, and 77% disapprove of the way they handled budget negotiations during the October government shutdown.
A similar NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that favorable views of the Republican Party now stand at only 24%. Each of these polling outlets noted the figures are historic, the lowest they’ve ever recorded — a true nadir for the Party.
There’s little doubt that Congress’ handling of the budget last month contributed to a boomerang effect on GOP favorability. However, you’d be remiss to assume this was caused merely by their inability to defund Obamacare, or their failure to slash federal spending to Party-approved levels, or the slew of idiotic statements made regarding minorities, abortion, gay rights and even evolution, or their pervasive inability to win elections.
What’s really killing the Republican Party is a philosophical rift within its own ranks. There’s an identity crisis occurring within the GOP, something akin to Democrats’ emasculation after Vietnam (which, of course, contributed to the GOP’s hold on the White House for all but four years between 1969 and 1993). Growing disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction has engendered the Tea Party’s rise and subsequent ransacking of today’s conservative movement.
The Tea Party’s trademark solipsism, their penchant to decry the perceived inaction of party members who refused to let the government sink into fiscal default, their habit of singling out fellow Republicans who fail to kowtow to the most extreme tenets of conservatism, is indicative of the schism that characterizes the conservative zeitgeist.
The Tea Party has ushered in a new voice in conservatism, one that favors radicalism over pragmatism, one that analogizes compromise with ideological surrender. Fueled by manufactured outrage, romance mythology, and bygone notions of white supremacy, the Tea Party resides at the intersection of rumor, misinformation, and mob psychology, armed with empty warnings that increasing taxes for the rich is path to Tyranny and equally empty promises that they can return us to a fabled past that never existed.
No question, the Tea Party has vitalized a big segment of the conservative base. However, anyone who thinks this sets the stage for a Republican takeover is dead wrong. The advent of the Tea Party is a Pyrrhic victory for the conservative movement. It has emerged as a splinter that seeks to separate from the whole. Americans are turned off by fringe elements.
We don’t like radicalism, no matter what political stripe. In fact, that very fear of radicalism — the habit of referring to liberals as “communists,” for example — has been a staple of GOP admonitions for decades. By fetishizing radicalism, Republicans have become victims of their own pathology.
In repairing their brand, it deserves mention that an overwhelming number of Americans still agree with many key tenets of the Republican Party. Lower taxation and curtailing the reach of government are touch-points that still resonate with a very wide segment of voters. Moreover, recent outrage over our use of drones in the Middle East and the continuing overreach of NSA surveillance have become hugely contentious topics that have alienated former Obama supporters and have ushered in a new breed of detractors.
The Republican brand can do a lot to reposition itself, and it can start by allying and establishing an empathetic connection with those voices, and petitioning the case for change. They can begin standing up for ideas they support, instead of what they merely oppose.