The Washington Post is showing great interest in the Republican Party these days. To me, that’s a bit like Leopold and Loeb showing great interest in one of your children.
Unlike some entries in the Post’s series of occasional “whither the GOP” articles, today’s article at least has the virtue of being written by adults. Even so, its effort to paint the Party as plagued by lack of leadership and discord is not very persuasive. In fact, I was reasonably encouraged by the Post’s findings, which are based on polling and a series of focus groups.
The Post found that the Republican Party has no clear leader. That’s true, but inconsequential. It doesn’t need one right now.
The Post found that Sarah Palin tops the list, in the eyes of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, as the leader who “best reflects the core values of the Republican Party.” 18 percent of those polled view her that way. John McCain was second at 13 percent, followed not very closely by Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich in that order. Although I don’t consider Palin well qualified for the presidency, I think she reflects the core values of the Party as well or better than any other prominent Republican politician. The fact that she tops this list tends to show that the Party remains conservative and essentially Reaganite, which to me is encouraging.
The Post found that only 55 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe that congressional Republicans understand their problems and that only 60 percent share their personal values. These numbers strike me as healthy. They show that Republican voters haven’t completely forgotten how poorly congressional Republicans performed when they were in power. Presumably, congressional Republicans will keep these sobering results in mind.
As for serious discord, the Post has to drill pretty deep to find even a hint of it. Indeed, “discord” only appeared when the pollsters shifted the focus away from the issues and more in the direction of process. For example, there was division on whether Republican members of Congress should seek compromise with Democrats in trying to solve certain problems, notably energy policy.
This disagreement is probably less about policy and more about how Republicans view Democrats, a fairly trivial matter in the scheme of things. Indeed, the disagreement is largely academic, since congressional Democrats have shown no willingness to compromise with Republicans unless they happen to be Senators from Maine.
There is also disagreement about whether the Party is focusing too much or too little on certain issues. For example, on same-sex marriage, 27 percent think there is too much focus, 32 percent think there is too little, and 38 percent believe the right amount of attention is being paid. This sort of division seems inevitable and of no great moment.
On the other hand, the fact that around 60 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe not enough attention is being paid to federal spending, illegal immigration, and the economy and jobs warrants a closer look. The dissatisfaction regarding the attention being paid to the economy and jobs is probably inevitable in an economic downturn. The dissatisfaction regarding federal spending is, again, a timely reminder to congressional Republicans that their base is still sore at them. Only the dissatisfaction regarding immigration is potentially worrying from a political standpoint because the Party can address this dissatisfaction only at the risk (how much risk is a matter of debate) of alienating Hispanic voters.
To put all of this into context, it would have been nice if the Post had done parallel polling among Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. Do they think the Obama administration is paying enough attention to same-sex marriage? How about gays in the military? For that matter, how about federal spending and creating jobs? After tomorrow night, will most Democrats think Obama is paying too much attention — i.e., devoting too many resources — to Afghanistan? I suspect so.
The Post, however, seems not have set its sights on this particular political child.
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