The Key Question for Republicans Regarding November 2012
Is public dissatisfaction with Obama also a cry for a conservative revolution?
The Economist posits (in a wide-ranging piece on the state of the GOP in general) the following in regards to the pending presidential contest:
Are Americans looking for nothing more than a safe alternative to a president who has failed? If so, they might do worse than plump for Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a primary candidate last time: a known quantity with what looks like a safe pair of hands. Or are they hankering after a revolution?
The main impetus for the question is to be found in the following numbers:
An average of polls maintained by RealClearPolitics, a website, suggests that 44.8% of voters intend to vote for a Republican in 2012 and 41.8% for Mr Obama.
The RealClearPolitics average shows that the proportion of Americans disapproving of Mr Obama’s performance jumped to 51% in October from 20% in January 2009. Around 75% say the country is on the wrong track.
These are, no doubt, numbers of concern for the Democrats and of glee for Republicans (or, as the Economist puts it: “For the Republicans, these are mouth-watering numbers”). But back to the question above: what kind of change do these numbers suggest is being desired by the public?
Now, I recognize that for Tea Partiers and other various movement conservatives, the assumption is that ideological purity is what is needed. But, I would note, the numbers don’t support that contention. See, for example, a recent Gallup poll:
The key here is the “very conservative” number, which is at 11% for national adults. These are the people who want a radical restructuring of the government. Further: the sum of self-described “moderates” and “liberals” is 51%, suggests that the sweet spot for electoral victory is closer to the middle than it is to Tea Party HQ.
Along the same lines is the another Gallup poll, this time on Tea Party support, which is a good measure of support for the more extreme GOP candidates/goals:
Even if we sum “Strong Supporters” and “Supporters” we get 25% of adults and 26% of registered voters. This is a large bloc of voter, to be sure, but it is still a marked minority. And yes, even a Tea Party friendly candidate will attract a great deal of general Republican support, but such a candidate will not appeal to moderates and independents and may turn off Republicans leaners in those groups.
Also, back to the Economist, the numbers from the debt ceiling debate tends to indicate that the more radical approach of the Tea Party faction is not what the public wants to see:
The Republicans boast that, by refusing to raise the amount the government could borrow until the Democrats agreed to reduce spending, they forced Mr Obama to make a belated start on tackling the deficit. But they also brought the United States close to its first-ever default, prompting Standard & Poor’ s to downgrade its AAA credit rating to AA+. Though none of the politicians emerged with much credit in voters’ eyes, a poll afterwards showed that more (72%) were inclined to disapprove of how the Republicans had handled the crisis than blamed the Democrats (66%) or Mr Obama (47%).
The Republicans say they won a victory. But the showdown exposed the party to the charge of recklessness, highlighted its rigidity on taxes and seemed to reveal a rift. At one point John Boehner, the speaker and nominal leader of the Republicans in the House, started to talk to Mr Obama about a “grand bargain” entailing not only the spending cuts the Republicans insisted on but also the tax increases Democrats call unavoidable to protect vital programmes. These talks broke down, however, leaving the impression that the pragmatic Mr Boehner had been overruled by the anti-tax ideologues in his own caucus.
The Tea Party’s rigidity in that debate was a) not in sync with the majority of the public and b) gives Obama and the Democrats a campaign theme (i.e., that segments of the GOP simply cannot be trusted with power).
All of this leads back, to the proposition, that of the candidates in the GOP field the one that has the best chance of taking the White House is Mitt Romney. This is not, by the way, a guarantee, but rather an assessment of the odds at the moment.
Of course, the Republicans can still hope that the bad economy alone will propel their candidate to victory next year. There is, of course, a great deal of political science to indicate that, in fact, it is the economy, stupid, most of the time. I do wonder, however, as to the degree to which the fact we have been in a sustained economic slump (and the fact that said slump started before the current occupant of the White House took residence) will temper expectations (indeed, I think this an interesting question worthy of research). In other words, the trend line has been relatively level (indeed, it has been slightly positive) and I wonder as to the degree to which the trend line (on growth and jobs specifically) will be as influential and the absolute position of the economy (compared to historical norms).
Regardless, we are seeing segments of the GOP clinging to their fantasy that they are poised for a “true conservative” (the definition of which is rather unclear) revolution if only the party would show the strength of its convictions and nominate someone like Herman Cain and numbers are not going to dissuade them.