Will Congressional Republicans Listen To Their Base, Or To The American Public?

Post-election polling shows that the majority of Americans want the new GOP majority in Congress to work together with the President. Republican voters have a very different view.

us-politics-republicans-democrats

If you listen to the rhetoric coming from the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, and even many of the newly elected Republican Senate, you’ll hear a lot of appeals to bipartisanship and of both sides of the aisle working together to get things done in Washington. When the Senate reconvened this afternoon, much of that rhetoric was repeated in speeches by outgoing Senators on both sides of the aisle such as Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Lamar Alexander, and others, including Senators who weren’t even up for re-election this year. The American people, they’ve told us, sent a signal last Tuesday that they are tired of more of the same gridlock that we’ve seen in Washington for much of the past five years, if not longer, and the want both Republicans and Democrats to work together to “do the work the American people sent us here to do,” to use a phrase that seems a mandatory part of all these speeches. Republicans in particular seem to want to make it clear that they don’t want to return to the days of showdowns and threats of shutdown that have marked most of the Obama Administration. To a large degree, of course, this is the standard rhetoric one hears after every election, but even if people like Mitch McConnell mean what they are saying, there’s one very important constituency that doesn’t want to see the newly Republican Congress cooperate at all, and that would be Republicans themselves:

In the wake of the last Tuesday’s election, President Obama, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner all offered rhetorical bows to bipartisanship. But, a new post-election poll conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that two-thirds of Republicans have little interest in their top elected leaders trying to find common ground with the president.

Sixty six percent of Republicans said the they would prefer party leaders “stand up” to Obama “even if less gets done in Washington” while just 32 percent preferred GOP top brass “work with Obama, even if disappoints some GOP supporters.”  That view stands in direct opposition to the view of the broader electorate on that question; 57 percent of all Americans prefer that Republicans work together with Obama while 40 percent favor GOP leaders standing up to the president. Among Democrats, a majority (52 percent) say that Obama should work with Republicans “even if it disappoints some Democratic supporters” while 43 percent would prefer they “stand up” to Republicans even if it means getting less done.

(…)

[T]he same Pew poll shows that almost six in ten (57 percent) of Republicans want their leaders to move in a “more conservative direction” while 39 percent want their leaders to move in a more moderate one. Some of that division is the result of the increasingly pejorative sense in which “moderate” is viewed among Republicans (it’s becoming like “liberal” for Democrats) but the split also reflects the desire of the rank and file to confront a president for whom they — and this is not too strong a word — hate.

You can read the details of the poll, which also goes into the level of public support for the Presidents agenda versus that of the Republican Congress at this link, but the long and the short of it is that there is good news and bad news for both sides in the numbers. On some issues, there’s broader public support for the President’s position, on others the advantage lies with Congress. However, for the time being at least, the poll says that a majority of the public seems to prefer the Congressional approach, but that may be because the public seems to have concluded that the President will be able to get little, if anything, done in his final two years in office. That he is, in other words, a lame duck.

The biggest takeaway from the poll, though, is what’s highlighted above, and the dilemma it creates for both Republicans in the House and Senate and Republicans as a whole. If you judge things by what the base of the Republican Party is saying, and what is presently being said on conservative talk radio, Fox News Channel, and in the conservative blogosphere, then the election was a clear mandate for a conservative agenda and not for some spirit of national cooperation. Rather than trying to find ways to make deals with the President and with the Democrats in the House and Senate, the argument this group is making goes, Republicans on Capitol Hill need to spend the next two years confronting the President and his fellow Democrats by pushing through bills that advance conservative ideas, even it if means Presidential veto after Presidential veto. Such a record of vetoes, the logic seems to go, will establish President Obama as the obstructionist, not the Republicans, and if Democrats in the Senate used the filibuster to block legislation that they are convinced is popular then it will only come back to bite them them in 2016. In some sense, it’s an expanded version of the game plan the House GOP followed for the last four years when it sent bills to the Senate that were ignored while engaging in no-compromises negotiations with the President on everything from taxes to the debt ceiling to a budget negotiation that turned into a foolish and ultimately doomed effort to “defund” Obamacare that led to one of the longest government shutdowns in American history. All of this taken together, they claim, will lay out the differences between the GOP and the Democrats starkly heading into 2016, allowing the Republicans to benefit electorally from Democratic intransigence.

On the other side there’s the rest of the American people who, according to this poll, the exit polling from Tuesday, and numerous pre-election polls has a very different idea of what they want from Washington. While it’s not always possible to say exactly what the public wants on specific policy issues — on Obamacare for example, a majority continues to say that they don’t like the bill but that majority is basically equally divided on whether Congress should fix the bill or trash it completely and start over — it seems overwhelmingly clear that what they don’t want is a repeat of the gridlock, confrontation, and hyperpartisanship that we’ve seen from Congress in the past. To a large degree, the public really does seem to want to see Congress “work together” to get things done as the flowery rhetoric puts it. If nothing else, they certainly don’t want to see more of the same from Congress and the President, a fact reflected in the declining public approval numbers for both bodies.

This presents an obvious challenge for Republican leaders and for the men and women who would be potential candidates for President in 2016. If they are going to navigate the rough waters of their own political party, they have to show a level of political orthodoxy and resistance to compromise that makes governing in an era of divided government next to impossible. However, if the GOP is going to succeed nationally it has to do more than just appeal to its narrow base. There are ways to thread that needle, but it’s not going to be an easy task and it’s going to present a problem for Republicans as long as it continues to be a parry with a powerful base that believes that  purity is more important than accomplishing anything or winning elections.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Campaign 2016, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    I expect a government shutdown attempt over Obamacare or something else within the next six months.
    You heard it here first.

  2. JWH says:

    “The public” does not turn out for candidates and vote them into office (or vote them out). “The base” does.

  3. Slugger says:

    It costs about five million dollars to run for Senator in America. That kind of money requires a lot of time to raise funds. No one has the time to listen to ordinary people when they have to raise that kind of juice. In our recent elections, did anyone spending less than their opponent win?

  4. munchbox says:

    That’s the silliest thing I heard Doug. If they wanted to work with the democrats they would have elected democrats. Obama is the worst…face it …that’s why republicans were elected in this wave. And if you think your argument is justified by some stupid polling numbers …why were all the polls so dramatically wrong prior to the election…I mean for goodness sake some races were blow outs…

  5. munchbox says:

    What’s also silly …how come no article on the Gruber guy? obamacare is so great they had to lie to the stupid “public” about it.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @munchbox: Once again, we see that facts are the enemies of Republicans.

    Look, the exit polls (and the pre-election polls) say what they say. Feel free to spin those polls any way you want, but they all showed that the majority of Americans were primarily driven by dissatisfaction with the gridlock in Washington, and the complete breakdown of bipartisan (or even pragmatic) effort. THAT is why people say they voted the way they did.

    Now, you can choose to argue that
    1. People are lying about why they voted the way they did
    2. “Dissatisfaction with gridlock” is a code-phrase for “strongly favor the Tea Party agenda”
    3. Every poll out there was conducted by the dreaded Librul Medea, and is therefore hopelessly biased
    4. [insert your choice here]

    I don’t think any of those arguments work, but feel free to try. The thing you can’t argue, though, is that people in exit polls are mostly saying that they hate Obama and want Republicans. That’s simply not true. As Saint Yogi said, “You could look it up.”

  7. gVOR08 says:

    Like all congresscritters, Republicans will listen to their lobbyist/donors first, the base in their state/district second, other voters in their state/district a distant third, and any voter outside their state/district a very long way back from third.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    If you judge things by what the base of the Republican Party is saying, and what is presently being said on conservative talk radio, Fox News Channel, and in the conservative blogosphere, then the election was a clear mandate for a conservative agenda and not for some spirit of national cooperation.

    If you judge things by what those sources say, then the Earth is 6000 years old, cutting taxes increases revenue, Obama invented Obamacare in order to be able to implement sharia law, and the deficit has continued to grow throughout his presidency. The National Enquirer is right just as often, and much more entertaining.

  9. munchbox says:

    Yes because the argument from the “left” who just about continually complains that the reason for the gridlock is because of the right. So much so they shut down the national parks and were trying to prevent people from taking pictures of mount Rushmore during the shutdown… So from the top your new leftist argument is the public sees gridlock because of republicans so to solve that problem they overwhelmingly elected more of them ?! That’s a strong argument you got there.

  10. munchbox says:

    2008: Obama fever!
    2010: The democrats get a shellacking because of disenchantment with Obama’s policies.
    2012: ?????? Mystery force gets Obama re-elected ?????
    2014: The democrats get a shellacking…again.

    http://imagizer.imageshack.us/a/img673/197/0d37CK.jpg

  11. Bokonon says:

    The fact that the Republicans were able to assemble a winning coalition built out of their base of hard core, confrontational partisans and swing voters who were “dissatisfied with gridlock” just goes to … well … show how tuned out, stupid and easily confused certain portions of the American voting public really is. This is like electing an arsonist to head the fire department … out of frustration about the fire department’s inability to stop arson fires.

    It doesn’t have to be a MAJORITY of the public that gets gulled captured by this sort of garbage – it only needs to be ENOUGH of the public.

    And the really sick, disheartening thing is that this validates the GOP’s terrible behavior over the last four years. They paid no price for the government shutdowns, the near-default on the national debt, the malfeasance and misgoverning that has gone on in the House of Representatives … it all worked out for them. They successfully shifted the blame to the Democrats, and the Democrats lost. The GOP won.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    The low-turnout, low-information voters just took control of Congress. Why would anyone listen to a low-information public that just supported a political party that shut down the federal government twice in 5 years, and tried to leverage the threat of default against political agenda demands that the president agree to repeal ACA? The public evidently liked and wanted the shutdown, but not a shutdown of stuff that they liked. The public is kind of dumbed down these days.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: People seem to have quit down-voting me for remarking that the electorate are a box of rocks.

    And I mean our side too. They not only vote for reasons as dumb as the other side (mostly some weird perceived tribal affiliation), many can’t seem to drag themselves to the polls.

  14. munchbox says:

    They successfully shifted the blame to the Democrats, and the Democrats lost. The GOP won.

    . That’s because the dems are to blame for obamacare …plain and simple. Glad you realized it.

  15. David M says:

    @munchbox:

    Virtually no one votes based on Obamacare, and most who do aren’t voting based on actual policies.

  16. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:
    I realize you are probably just responding out of boredom or for lurkers, but munch has to be satire. The crap he says is so patently ridiculous that even Florack would be ashamed to say it.

  17. dennis says:

    @Grewgills:

    The crap he says is so patently ridiculous that even Florack would be ashamed to say it.

    I don’t know, Grew; that’s kind of a stretch …

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Grewgills:

    Yeah, I agree. I realized it when I would come across lines* that would make me think “No one can actually be this stupid…”

    *Ex:

    2012: ?????? Mystery force gets Obama re-elected ?????

  19. Gustopher says:

    Whatever happens, the base will complain that the congress critters were too moderate, and that they should have really pressed Obummer on BENGHAZI!!!, tax reform, deporting more brown people, the most unlawful presidency in history and ebola. Also, Michelle Obama is fat, Global Warming isn’t real, and Obama is soft on crime, terrorism and kittens.

  20. C. Clavin says:

    Munchbox cracks me up.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @Grewgills:

    even Florack would be ashamed to say it.

    Now that’s just crazy-talk.

  22. jewelbomb says:

    @C. Clavin: As a lurker whose primary interest in this site lies in the ramblings of the more, um, eccentric of its commentators, I’ve come to delight in Munchbox as well.

  23. Guarneri says:

    @gVOR08:

    Anyone who pays attention to the up and down votes here is in need of a mental,health professional.

  24. bill says:

    just to be sure, over 60% of Americans didn’t want obamacare but the democrats insisted we have it and the prez rammed it through without a single republican vote. now they insist that all be forgotten and we all embrace each other across the aisle?

    @Guarneri: i know, like this site is representative of how the country really feels about anything!

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:
    Your comment depends on a mis-reading of the polls.
    If your opinion is based on factual errors … Perhaps you should rethink your opinion.

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:
    Shouldn’t you be out celebrating your survival of the Ebola plague ?

  27. I live in Montana. The reason Montanans turned a Senate seat red that had been occupied by a Democrat for a century was to put into office someone who would cooperate in implementing Obama’s agenda? That is what you might call delusional. Que up your usual personal attacks.

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Let’s Be Free:

    That is what you might call delusional. Que up your usual personal attacks.

    All of that is what I call Republicanism.

  29. Jeremy R says:

    @munchbox:

    Do you really feel the administration and congress are responsible for policing some academic’s impolitic musings just because he did some consulting work years earlier? The only thing at all interesting about this whole faux controversy is how masterfully the Right continues to work the refs in getting their inane manufactured outrages media coverage.

  30. munchbox says:

    The only thing at all interesting about this whole faux controversy, BENGHAZI!!!, brown people

    …..
    aren’t voting based on actual policies.now that is crazy talk. Straight out of the mouths of the otb community. Ha you guys are funny too, you crack me up. @Jeremy he was a little more than just some guy that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to remember..kind like she didn’t seem to know what was in the bill before it passed..Gruber was also given a $380,000 contract by the Obama administration in 2009 to work with Congress on drafting a new federal law based on the Massachusetts law, records show.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/bloggers/3226579/posts
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/aroy/2011/11/16/gruber-romney-is-lying-romneycare-and-obamacare-are-the-same-fing-bill/

  31. LaMont says:

    You want to know why mid-term elections are meaningless?

    I submit to you munchbox!

  32. Tony W says:

    Republicans’ Orwellian doublespeak about losing their Freedom(TM) from Obamacare is so much hyperbole.

    News Flash: the ability to easily purchase health care coverage IS freedom. You don’t have to keep that crappy job anymore for the health care.

  33. munchbox says:

    You want to know why mid-term elections are
    meaningless? I submit to you munchbox!

    ….kinda like in a Muslims to allah sort of way?
    Or more like when Doug pens his next article about the topic he should cite me as a reason sort of way? Any who….You don’t have to keep that crappy job anymore or …or your doctor, or you low premium plan, or your hsa account, or your hard earned money from that crappy job you have…you can just quit your job and reap the benefits from obamacare and welfare. …you know because there is just so many better jobs out there.

  34. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: dude, i have a great memory- and i’m always happy to wake up ebola free! here’s a cnn poll from 2010.

  35. Tony W says:

    @munchbox: Sorry to hear that you are having trouble finding work. You might want to gain some self-awareness and humility. It will really help with the job search – I promise.

  36. munchbox says:

    Tony, yes it hard to find work when you live under a bridge and shout at cars all day like myself. But seriously the democrats were beaten badly twice…but it was only because of people like me that crawl out from under our rocks/bridges to vote for compromise with obama’s policies don’t cha know? 0bama is the worst and people are sick of him, don’t trust him, and voted out his cronies that supported his policies….not to compromise as Doug’s flawed polling claims to show.

  37. munchbox says:

    Tony, yes it hard to find work when you live under a bridge and shout at cars all day like myself. But seriously the democrats were beaten badly twice…but it was only because of people like me that crawl out from under our rocks/bridges to vote for compromise with obama’s policies don’t cha know? 0bama is the worst and people are sick of him, don’t trust him, and voted out his cronies that supported his policies….not to compromise as Doug’s flawed polling claims to show…plain and simple.

  38. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m really curious how right wingers mentally deal with the fact that when Obama himself was up for election, he was elected by a wide margin–twice. It doesn’t quite jive with their screaming that America has clearly rejected Obama.

  39. LaMont says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    It has a lot to do about the misconception of what mid-term elections actually mean. Many, like munchbox, believe it is a referendum on President Obama. Yet, as I pointed out in one of Doug’s other articles about the perils of aligning all elections up with presidential year elections, mid-term elections cannot be responsive (or a referendum) when the turn-out is extremely low. It does not reflect the views of the majority. Why turn-out is low during mid-term cycles is another discussion. Regardless of the reason, Republicans have a vested interest in keeping these mid-term elections under the radar as they know that when more people vote, they lose (hence – voter suppression laws). Without that simple bit of context, the munchboxes and floracks of the world will never understand why President Obama won in 2012.

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I’ve read that in psychology the concept of motivated reasoning explains the ability to get around the massive cognitive dissonance they generate.

  41. munchbox says:

    @Neil

    No you are right we are just crazy. Either it is because everyone else just thinks voting is a four year process or its something more like fraud. I can say I can see how obama was elected in 2008…that makes sense.. but 2012? I just don’t buy it. And I only say that because I work all over the north east… And obama yard signs/bumper stickers and the like were non existent.. there was even more homemade plywood sign denouncing him in fact. Mean while Romney / Ryan signs were every were. So to me it was suspicious. I Mean there was that one Detroit district with zero?! Romney votes? That alone is suspect. But here were today arguing that this election means nothing or at best it means that republicans are supposed to compromise. Frankly it just strange.

  42. al-Ameda says:

    @munchbox:

    but 2012? I just don’t buy it. And I only say that because I work all over the north east… And obama yard signs/bumper stickers and the like were non existent.. there was even more homemade plywood sign denouncing him in fact. Mean while Romney / Ryan signs were every were. So to me it was suspicious.

    It’s all a conspiracy. Maybe Trump can look into this: Send some private investigators over to Honolulu, Nairobi or Djakarta?

  43. munchbox says:

    Ha! Maybe he could. Look at the debates…Romney handed his ass to him on a platter in the first one…. Then the second one it was like he was visited from the mob and was given an ultimatum. “You better not make zero look like an ass again or else.”…. Whatever I really don’t care much about this either way …government has gotten out of control under both parties..and needs to be parried down. Look no further then the pastor that was arrested for feeding the homeless to see this is way out of control. Hey and have great weekend…don’t waste it on here….