Republicans Aren’t Happy With Their Party Leadership, But Why?

Republicans aren't happy with their leadership. The reason why is also the reason why Republicans are in trouble politically.

Elephants Fighting

Kevin Drum digs into the new ABC News/Washington Post poll and finds this:

GOP Poll


Drum wonders:

Is this due to moderates who think the GOP leadership has become a captive of the tea party? Or is it due to tea partiers who think the leadership is selling out to the moderates?

Since there were no follow-up questions to this poll question, it’s hard to say for sure, but I would suggest that we can come up with a pretty good idea of what it might mean just by looking at the rhetoric that has been coming out of the Republican Party base over the past several years. If you listen closely, or heck even not that closely at all, the complaints coming from that sector of the party aren’t about a leadership that is “a captive of the tea party,” it’s the complaint that the leadership is far too apt to compromise. We heard it during the debate over the debt ceiling two years ago this summer, during the debates over various budget measures, during the debate earlier this year over the relief bill for people affected by Hurricane Sandy. More recently, we’ve seen the same reaction to efforts to lessen the impact of the budget sequester, and the Senate’s immigration reform bill. Looking into the future, there are already signs of similar reactions occurring based on how the GOP leadership in both Chambers of Congress deal with the impending Fiscal Year 2014 budget battle and the approaching need to raise the debt ceiling. Throughout the past four years, the message from the base to the leadership has been consistent and clear. No compromise. No work on actual legislation. Don’t do anything that doesn’t involve “stopping Obama.”

That’s not to say that there isn’t a segment of the Republican Party that is frustrated with the manner in which Senate and House Republicans are behaving. We hear from them from time to time, and they do include some notable voices of Republican eras past. You’ll also find them among the high-dollar business-oriented donors that have long financed Republican campaigns in the past. They are, however, a diminishing voice of influence inside the Republican Party itself thanks to the rise of the Tea Party and its hard-right conservative allies.

So, to answer Drum’s question, I think it’s a safe bet to say that the reason behind the poll number he points to has much more to do with the Tea Party crowd thinking that the GOP leadership is too accommodating than it does with those Republicans who, though they might not admit it publicly, recognize that the party is harming itself by becoming captive to a hard-right conservative “Tea Party” movement more interested in scoring ideological points and fundraising than in actual governing.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave D says:

    Another problem with Drum’s question is that the party leadership isn’t currently being run by tea party types. This is demonstrated by the fact that neither Cantor nor Boehner can rally their caucus to support bills they put forth, like defunding the ACA or the Farm Bill. Either way the systematic halting of governance is appalling, especially when you consider the only thing both sides can seemingly agree on is that Congress members shouldn’t be inconvenienced at air ports due to the sequester and that they should be able to continue insider trading.

  2. Latino_in_Boston says:

    These are people whose idea of government is now completely untethered from reality. If you really think Obama is a tyrant, why hasn’t he been impeached yet? Why has there been ANY bills at all?

  3. Tillman says:

    Modernity is slapping the GOP base in the face in every avenue possible, so they are flexing their muscle in the only way they can. Government really follows social movements in terms of change, after all.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    A majority of Republicans are unhappy with leadership because the Republicans have become irrelevant to policy or governance in the U.S. Look at the recent Farm Bill where the Republicans in Congress could not resist porking up the bill after food stamps are separated.

    It makes sense that voters who want smaller government and less spending will get upset when Republicans in office pork up every budget they touch while devoting more time to abortion and gays instead of economic and fiscal issues.

  5. Woody says:

    Oh good gravy, this one isn’t difficult. The Murdoch+talkradio media networks have far more pervasive influence within the Republican Right than do actual party leaders.

    Actual legislating is lousy tv. Bomb-throwers declaring jeremiads are the norm on rightwing radio, not politicos who know how to cut a deal.

    And again, to keep their audience*, they are compelled to heighten, not defuse, their bombast. Their audience demands it.

    *Again, a business-savvy move on Murdoch’s part. He sells more ads than anyone because News Corp exists to turn a profit, not to be ‘responsible.’

  6. John O says:

    The problem with ‘compromise’ from the perspective of the GOP base is that it inevitably goes in only one direction, that is, compromise advances the progressive agenda; a ‘compromise’ is simply a matter of degree. (Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single ‘compromise’ that rolled back the progressive agenda in any meaningful way.) Conservatives will no longer accept any ‘compromises’ like this. Anything that advances the progressive agenda in any way is completely and totally unacceptable under any circumstances, period.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    What Woody said.

    Republicans love to talk about the wonders of the marketplace and the magical, mystical powers of business. Okay, so now they have a party that is defined by a businessman, Rupert Murdoch for Murdoch’s profit. Business! Capitalism! Marketplace!

    How’s that working? Well, it’s going great for Murdoch. Not for the party. Murdoch has all but killed the actual party. Niche audiences are brilliant for business, kind of not so great in elections.

    And this is a neat reflection of the capital uber alles mentality of the party as applied to the country as a whole. Wall Street doing great. Billionaires doing great. Regular people? Not so great.

  8. greginak says:

    @John O: Do you know what the word compromise means? It usually involves both sides getting something they want. Neither gets everything, but both get something.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    What’s not to be happy about?
    You voted for crusaders and bigots.
    You got crusaders and bigots.
    Be happy.
    It’s like Doug complaining about the economy. Be careful what you wish for.

  10. John O says:

    @greginak: Conservatives rarely, if ever, get anything out of ‘compromises’ with liberals. GOP leadership and moderates do, but not Conservatives. And whatever victories Conservatives manage to extract from ‘compromises’ mostly prove fleeting. So no more.

  11. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @greginak: Unfortunately, you just made John O’s point. He will ask “and what did the conservatives get? Nothing, that’s what!” If you don’t believe me, go back into the archives and read virtually any comment by Eric Florak, among others.

  12. David M says:

    @John O:

    Without actual examples, I’m not sure you’re making a lot of sense.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    If by conservatives we mean the radical social cons who pass themselves off as true conservatives, then yes, there’s very little for them in compromise.

    What they want is to put women back into their 1950’s box. That’s not going to happen.

    They want gays to simply. . . disappear. And that’s not going to happen.

    They want black people powerless and locked out of sight of an all-white power structure and Latinos to stick to mowing lawns and neither of those things is going to happen.

    They want their own particular vision of Christianity rammed down everyone’s throats and that’s not on the agenda.

    Social cons want all power concentrated in their hands, theirs alone, and screw anyone who is not them. No. No, not happening. This is not Afghanistan. We do not welcome the Taliban, whichever religion they claim to belong to. This is the United States where we move toward freedom and not away from it. So yeah: the social cons lose.

    To the extent that economic cons and national security cons tie themselves to these people they’ve attached themselves to an anchor that will slowly, inexorably, drag them down, down, down into the briny deep. As is happening. As was easily predictable.

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @John O:

    Anything that advances the progressive agenda in any way is completely and totally unacceptable under any circumstances, period.

    The Democratic Party would like to thank you, and others like you, for your intransigence. It will help them win elections.

    Oh, and just a sidenote: your position amounts to standing in front of the train of history saying “STOP!”

    That has never, ever worked. It is, however, a recipe for obsolescence. In that regard, refer back to the first statement.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @John O:

    Conservatives will no longer accept any ‘compromises’ like this. Anything that advances the progressive agenda in any way is completely and totally unacceptable under any circumstances, period.

    Entropy awaits you and your failed ideology.

  16. superdestroyer says:


    I find it odd that progressives are happy that the U.S. in on a path to becoming a second tier country with a small group of elite patrons and a massive number of poor peons and it is the conservative fault for saying maybe it is not a good idea.

    In the past, both political parties have failed to think about the longer term (think growing entitlement spending) but when Republicans start thinking about the future (in terms of things like immigration, out of wedlock births, failures of public schools), they are accused of standing in the way of the future.

  17. michael reynolds says:


    When conservatives think about these things they generally make them worse. Like teen pregnancy. We thought about it and came up with sex education. Your side thought about it and came up with abstinence education.

    Now, guess which state has the highest teen pregnancy rate. Surprise: Texas. Guess which state has rapidly falling teen pregnancy rates. Surprise: California.

    Let me make this simple: you’re the stupid side of the debate. Smart vs. stupid. So when you think about things, it’s not always so helpful.

  18. Scott says:

    The fact that a majority of Republicans are unhappy with leadership is a sign that the party is splitting and pulling apart. If probed deeper, I think that yes, extreme rightwingers are unhappy but also more traditional Republicans. Leadership is in a lose, lose situation.

    This illustrates my frustration with polling in general. It seems to be geared toward headlines but not at getting at truths. An analogy to this poll is that regular one about Obamacare: Do you approve, yes or no? Peeling back that onion reveals that a substantial minority of disapprovers disaprove because it does go far enough. But that doesn’t get headlines.

  19. Barry says:

    Doug: “…but I would suggest that we can come up with a pretty good idea of what it might mean just by looking at the rhetoric that has been coming out of the Republican Party base over the past several years. ”

    You’re comparing volume from ‘the Base’ (meaning the pissed off mother f-ers who are simply pissed off mother f-ers) with the results from a poll. Not very good.

  20. John O says:

    @David M: Clinton era welfare reform was unilaterally gutted by Obama in his first term; the budget deficit is worse than ever; illegal immigration is worse than before the 1986 ‘compromise,’ yet conservatives are berated for standing in the way of another one.

    I could cite hundreds examples of liberal successes from the past two decades. I’d be interested in hearing what liberals consider conservative successes during that time.

  21. Tony W says:

    @John O: Just letting the stupid Obama comments go, but I’ll take a stab at this one:

    . I’d be interested in hearing what liberals consider conservative successes during that time.

    The military-industrial complex has flourished under the capable leadership of Bush/Cheney who directed billions of dollars to Halliburton and other private companies. Heck, they even invented new wars to escalate the process.

    Conservatives managed for decades to stifle gay rights, and keep the blacks and other minorities down as long as humanly possible.

    Poor people consistently vote against their own interests in Red states because of Jesus.

    Redistricting has resulted in many congressional fights being won or lost at the primary – this has solidified the TP Express as a legitimate political force, when in a sane world it would be a farce.

    Anybody else want to play?

  22. John O says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:Decline is not inevitable – its a choice and America is in decline because she has chosen to follow Democratic policies. Thus bad behavior is rewarded and freedom is ever more stifled – entropy is the inevitable result. See Detroit – its is a shining example of this; its fate the logical endpoint of liberalism and one that awaits us all without a serious course correction that re-establishes conservative and classically liberal ideas and values in our governing class and our society at large.

  23. John O says:

    @michael reynolds: Projection, pure and simple.

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @ John O…
    Detroit is not a result of any one thing…but one of the major causes of Detroit is the inequality that is the inevitable result of Republican policies and economic theories.
    Number one is raiding pensions to fund corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich. Sound familiar? It should…it is happening all over the country.
    Number two is austerity in the face of recession. Sound familiar? It should…it’s what is holding back the entire nations economic growth right now.
    Republicans for years have been pursuing radical agendas…and by radical I mean agendas with no basis in history or real world experience…and Detroit is just one fruit of that labor.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @John O:

    Non sequitur, pure and simple.

  26. Davebo says:

    @John O:

    Yes, that’s why we now have a single payer health care system like the rest of the industrial world…

    Oh, wait, no we don’t. We have the GOP designed system (with the help of the American Enterprise Institute).

    The fact that you don’t recognize that as a massive compromise on the part of progressives just illustrates how out of touch with reality you really are.

  27. becca says:

    @John O: No quarter, eh?

    I guess I ‘m going to have to study up on dueling.

  28. Rob in CT says:

    Hardcore ideologues always seem to think they’re losing on all fronts. If you go to the firebagger lefty blogs, you’ll get the same thing: they think the past 33 years has been an uninterrupted string of defeats.

    Neither is accurate. Here’s what I see since 1980:

    Conservatives won major victories on federal tax policy, with liberal responses only partially rolling those victories back. The sum total of the tax code reforms since 1980 lean right (granted, the benefits flow to the GOP elite/moderates, not “the Base” but “the Base” keeps eating up the associated rhetoric so I call BS on trying to split that out and pretend it’s not “Real Conservatism” or somesuch).

    Military policy has ebbed and flowed. During the 90s, liberals were successful in taking a “peace dividend” (known in conservative circles as “gutting the military”), but then we’ve had a huge ramp-up since 9/11, with fairly small cuts recently. Now, if you want to claim that “Real Conservatives” are not for high levels of military spending, you can do that and I’ll laugh at you, since the poll data is consistent: self-identified conservatives love military spending.

    Abortion has largely been a stalemate, though recently it looks like Conservatives have made headway.

    Liberals, after a significant defeat in the early 90s, finally pushed through a form of universal(ish) healthcare. That’s a major victory.

    Not sure how one would classify the earlier reform led by the GOP (Medicare prescription drug plan). On the one hand, that’s undeniably an expansion of the welfare state, but it was structured as much as possible to pay off GOP constituencies (drug companies, older folks). This one is the closest to John O’s claim about how compromises end up benefitting GOP elites/moderates and liberals and screwing The Base.

    Liberals have recently won big on gay rights.

    The budgetary stuff I can only laugh about. “Conservatives” have nothing but bullshit when it comes to fiscal responsibility. Every time they get power, they screw up our public finances, and while it’s happening their approval ratings are nice and high. The Dems are nowhere near perfect, but in my lifetime they’ve usually been the ones to come in and clean up the mess.

  29. Rob in CT says:

    As to the actual question Drum posed, we need poll data.

    The last time I saw poll data that asked Democratic and Republican voters how they felt about compromise, the responses lined up with John O’s position vs. those of us in the thread who are or lean Dem. A majority of GOP voters wanted their reps to dig in and compromise less, whereas Dem voters wanted compromise.

    Which, to me, explains the last 5 years.

  30. Rob in CT says:

    I forgot a category: environmental protection. I put this in the ebb/flow category. Exempting fracking from the Clean Air Act (or was it the Clean Water Act? Or both?) was a Conservative win and it has not, to my knowledge, been corrected. That was hardly the only policy choice made during the Bush II years (just the example that personally infuriates me even now). Meanwhile, under Obama, the Dems are tightening up regulation of carbon emissions from power plants, requiring more energy efficiency (higher CAFE standards, requiring lightbulbs be more efficient, etc). Conservatives are angry about those.

    Obviously, I’ve mostly focused on the federal level. If you drop down to the state level, I also see a mixed bag.

  31. Rob in CT says:

    Crap, I did leave out immigration.

    Here, “the Base” has a right to be angry. It’s true that illegal immigration levels since the last compromise have been much higher than the compromisers promised. And I do think this is the result of the money wing of the GOP + the money wing of the Dems + liberals (“the Base” of the Dems, if you prefer) not really wanting to crack down on it. The money boys want their cheap labor. Non-monied liberals often aren’t hot to trot about taking shots at folks they see as the underdogs and victimes of zenophobia, though in my experience if you talk to such folks about cracking down on the employer side, they’re much more receptive. Anyway, in terms of policy, this is clearly an area where the elite of both parties + a significant chunk of the liberal base have together thwarted the conservative base.

  32. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The fact that a majority of Republicans are unhappy with leadership is a sign that the party is splitting and pulling apart

    Hence the long-term problems with Nixon’s Southern strategy. For decades, the South was the Dems problem. Nixon made it the GOP’s problem.

    So, if they are now burdened with a whole bunch of Southern “no compromise, ever!” bombthrowers who are ripping the party in two, they have only themselves to blame.

  33. Caj says:

    GOP not happy with party leadership! What leadership? John Boehner is a waste of space and a gutless wonder! A party doesn’t even need a leader when all they say is NO. A toddler could be speaker if that were the case!

  34. Scott says:


    Hence the long-term problems with Nixon’s Southern strategy.

    Absolutely true. The Republican Party today is by and large the descendant of George Wallace’s American Independent Party.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott: Oh, no argument. One need look no further than what these people do when they gain complete control over government to see what lies beneath the surface of their rhetoric. They’re the ideological offspring of Birchers, religious fanatics and Klansmen.

    For further edification, one need look no further than the fun they’ve been having down in NC. If the good people of NC don’t have buyer’s remorse by this point, then there is no hope for them.

    And they only have themselves to blame.

  36. Moosebreath says:


    “And again, to keep their audience*, they are compelled to heighten, not defuse, their bombast.”

    It seems that the lower ranks of the leadership is catching on to the wishes of their audience.

    “According to Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times, the Republican budget goal for next year is simple and clear: if President Obama is for it, they want to cut it. “His priorities are going nowhere,” said Rep, Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But there’s obviously more to it. Here’s a quick taste:

    On Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee formally drafted legislation that would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent….education grants for poor students will be cut by 16 percent….The House transportation and housing bill for fiscal 2014 cuts from $3.3 billion to $1.7 billion the financing for Community Development Block Grants, which go mainly to large cities and urban counties for housing and social programs, largely for the poor….The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been flexing its muscle against hedge fund managers and insider trading schemes, would see financing cut 18 percent from the current level….the Internal Revenue Service would be cut by 24 percent….clean water grants from the Environmental Protection Agency would be slashed by 83 percent.”

    This is what people like John O think is a compromise, no doubt.

  37. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: A learned person such as yourself would probably have fun with the influence of the ‘Native American Party’ and ‘Know-Nothings’ on the demise of the Whig Party in the 1840’s and early ’50’s. There was also a strong impact on the death of the Whigs by ‘Temperance’ and ‘Abolitionist’ movements. History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes (forget who said that).

  38. gVOR08 says:

    Is this due to moderates who think the GOP leadership has become a captive of the tea party? Or is it due to tea partiers who think the leadership is selling out to the moderates?

    As in this case, the correct answer to most false dichotomies is “yes”.

  39. HarvardLaw92 says:


    LOL, Hal Rogers. He brings corruption to a whole new level.

  40. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Exactly. The names may change, but the song remains the same.

  41. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps e erroneous here is over thinking this. Perhaps Republicans are unhappy with their congressional leadership because their congressional leadership is made up of horrible human beings — vile examples of humanity at its worst.

    There’s a sad irony there that the policies the Republicans espouse are often so horrible and pointlessly mean to the lower classes that it would take horrible people to actually attempt to implement them — the difference between “people should pull themselves up by ther own bootstraps and be more self sufficient” vs. “let’s cut food stamps for poor people with kids”

    Perhaps America is united in disgust for the Republican congressional leadership. In this harshly politicized, partisan climate, perhaps we have found one issue upon which we can all agree.

  42. anjin-san says:

    @ John O

    I live in the SF Bay Area, a place far more liberal that Detroit ever was. You would think there would be nothing here but burnt out buildings, drug addicts, and bread lines.

    In reality, we are busy creating wealth and making it possible for a person such as yourself to function on the internet.

  43. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Ditto for me up here in NY. Our CITY has a larger economy than many of these flyover Republican STATES. You know, the “utopias” that folks like John O hold up as being nirvana.

    Judging from his position, we should be bankrupt and throwing molotov cocktails.

    Unfortunately for him, we’re too busy making truckloads of money to bother with such foolishness.

  44. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @JohnMcC: I believe it was Mark Twain who said that.

  45. David M says:

    @John O:

    Clinton era welfare reform was unilaterally gutted by Obama in his first term; the budget deficit is worse than ever

    OK, you’re making more sense now. It’s clear you have literally no idea of what’s going on, courtesy of the conservative entertainment complex.

  46. andrew e. says:

    @John O:

    Conservatives will no longer accept any ‘compromises’ like this. Anything that advances the progressive agenda in any way is completely and totally unacceptable under any circumstances, period.

    Allow me to tweek this a bit: Islam/Christianity will no longer accept any ‘compromises’. Anything that advances a secular society in any way is completely and totally unacceptable under any circumstances, period.

    So there you have it: you’re a fanatic. A zealot. You might as well start preaching civil war because you’ve lost the ability to live among people who hold different philosophies than you. Go shine up your guns and wait for the revolution Glenn Beck promised you.

  47. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Andrew e:

    Allow me to translate– GO GET YOUR EFFIN’ SHINE BOX! –end translation.

  48. Pharoah Narim says:

    @John O:

    I hear so much about this “Progressive” agenda. What is it? Can you outline it and give more specifics?

  49. Andrew E. says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    What am I, a clown? I’m here to effin’ amuse you?

  50. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans aren’t happy with anything, period.

    Republican voters are now electing many people who have no interest governing responsibly, in fact they are interested only in ensuring that social programs are eviscerated so that they can preside over the repeal of them. Kind of begs the question: Why are Republicans unhappy with people they elected who are doing exactly what they wanted them to do?