Arguably the biggest political story of the past year has been the breadth and depth of the anger and alienation among Republican voters—not just toward President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party, but also against their own party’s leaders.
This week, I was looking through a 65-page PowerPoint presentation that Republican pollster Neil Newhouse gave earlier this month to the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. For the uninitiated, Neil is one of the brightest and most talented pollsters in either party, with more 30 years experience taking the temperature of American voters. His record includes service as Mitt Romney’s pollster and work for Jeb Bush’s super PAC this year, along with dozens of senators and governors over the years. One particular page was fascinating.
On the left side of the page was a compilation of results from 2016 NBC News exit polls of Republican primaries in 17 states to the question, “Would you say you feel betrayed by politicians from the Republican Party?” The 17 states were ranked by their “yes, feel betrayed” responses: Nebraska (63 percent), Florida (60 percent), Pennsylvania (59 percent), Missouri (59 percent), Tennessee (58 percent), Michigan (58 percent), North Carolina (56 percent), Georgia (54 percent), Ohio (54 percent), Arkansas (53 percent), Virginia (53 percent), Wisconsin (52 percent), South Carolina (52 percent), Alabama (51 percent), Indiana (50 percent), Illinois (50 percent), and West Virginia (48 percent).
The right side of the page showed the responses to September 2015 CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker polls of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina asking the question, “In the last few years have the Republicans in Congress compromised with Barack Obama too much or too little?” The polls showed 81 percent of GOP voters in Iowa said that Republicans in Congress had compromised too much, in New Hampshire it was 59 percent, and in South Carolina it was 72 percent.
Two questions entered my mind looking at that slide: Exactly how did Republican politicians betray GOP voters, and what did Republicans in Congress compromise on with President Obama that was so horrific? Given that there are virtually no liberal and not many moderate Republicans left in Congress, and with the vast majority of Republican politicians pretty darn conservative, were they ideologically out of step? And given that there has been very little compromise of any kind in Washington, particularly between Republicans and President Obama, what did they compromise on that was so offensive? How can these numbers be so high?
These sentiments among Republican voters certainly explain how more establishment-oriented GOP presidential contenders crashed and burned this year, why Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie got nowhere, and for that matter why every Republican who had been elected to dog catcher or school board or higher, no matter where on the ideological spectrum they were, didn’t make it far beyond the presidential launch pad. People whose qualifications and demeanor might normally be made to order for a presidential nomination didn’t really matter this year. In retrospect—I wish I knew this a year ago—the fix was in this cycle; establishment or conventional Republican candidates need not apply for the nomination. It just wasn’t going to happen, and the only question was which angry outsider was going to get the GOP nomination.
Numbers like these also explain the behavior exhibited by members of the House Freedom Caucus and other tea party-style Republicans who show little fear of being labeled as obstructionists or too extreme. Simply put, the Republican base has gotten so exotic in their views that it is little wonder that they are becoming isolated from the broader electorate and have picked someone who is trailing a very weak Democratic nominee. Given how much voters know about Hillary Clinton and how horrible a person most Republicans passionately believe she is, how do they explain why she’s ahead? As flawed as she may be, the product of the Republican nomination process appears to be even more so.
At some point, Republican voters need to look in the mirror and start asking some questions of themselves. What are they watching, reading, or hearing that has created an environment and mentality in their party that seems so different from the broader electorate?
Political economist Tom Gallagher, a veteran Washington-watcher if there ever was one, says this recent history suggests that the GOP base will not reward Republicans who compromise with Clinton, should she win, on anything. Looking at numbers like this, how can they? And that bodes poorly for anything getting done over the next four years.
What We're Following See More »
"The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime." The referral occurred "after the inspector general concluded McCabe had lied to investigators or his own boss, then-FBI Director James B. Comey, on four occasions, three of them under oath." The referral does "not necessarily mean McCabe will be charge with a crime ... although the report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies 'was done knowingly and intentionally.'"
A federal appeals court in Chicago "upheld a nationwide injunction against making federal grant funding contingent on cooperation with immigration enforcement." The three Republican appointees ruled that the Trump administration "exceeded its legal authority in trying to implement the new conditions without approval from Congress ... One judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel, Reagan appointee Daniel Manion, said he would narrow the injunction solely to protect Chicago. However, the two other judges assigned to the case said the nationwide injunction appeared to be justified."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley "decided Thursday to delay markup" on a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller until next week. But he remains steadfast in his support for a committee vote, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "pledge to kill it" if it gets to the floor.
North Korea has expressed its commitment to 'complete denuclearisation' of the Korean peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday. ... South Korea announced on Wednesday that it is considering how to change a decades-old armistice with North Korea into a peace agreement as it prepares for the North-South summit this month." The leaders of the respective countries are also expected to connect a phone line so they can communicate directly.
"California reached an agreement with the federal government that the state’s National Guard troops will deploy to the border to focus on fighting transnational gangs as well as drug and gun smugglers, Gov. Jerry Brown said. ... Brown said Wednesday he secured federal funding for terms similar to those outlined in last week’s proposed contract: The Guard cannot handle custody duties for anyone accused of immigration violations, build border barriers or have anything to do with immigration enforcement."