The GOP Trust Gap

I did a last minute appearance on Bill Bennett’s radio show yesterday (sorry no advance announcement—I’ve had intermittent internet access the last few days), and we discussed briefly how to think about Congressional Republicans (especially in the House), who Bill thinks deserve comparison to Horatius at the Bridge, fighting heroically to stem the tide of Obamaism.  With due allowance for tactical mistakes and the usual practical difficulties of providing national leadership from the legislative branch, I agree.

There’s a simple test for how Congressional Republicans are doing: is the media in full cry that Republicans are “extremist” and “obstructionist”?  Check, and check.  When the liberal establishment is screaming like stuck pigs about you, you know you’re on the right track.

That said, there’s always room for self-criticism and introspection (but not self-flagellation—leave that for Anthony Weiner’s next act), which John’s post and poll about conservative woes prompted in ample quantity a few days ago.  Like the majority of our respondents, I agree that the relentless hostility of the media-academia-entertainment-complex has exacted a high toll on the Republican “brand.”  My anecdotal evidence is a number of people I know of conservative views who wouldn’t vote for Romney last year not because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, but because they have come to dislike and distrust Republicans.  But beyond my anecdotal evidence, opinion surveys back this up, too.

This is not brand new to the moment, however.  There were polls back in the 1990s, after the Gingrich revolution started to take hold in Congress, showing that on issue after issue, a majority of voters supported the conservative view.  But, when told that the position was the Republican position, support nosedived.  That’s what you call a real “branding” problem.

I’m against gimmicks, and don’t believe there are any quick fixes for this problem.  One powerful thing on our side is Barack Obama, just as Jimmy Carter was a huge boost to Republicans in the 1970s.  The GOP’s popularity numbers were actually worse following Watergate and the 1976 election—much worse than today in fact.  One virtue needed among all others right now is patience.  A good candidate in 2016 will help too.

Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg review a new Pew Poll showing that two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters think the party needs to address “major problems” versus less than a third who think no changes need to be made.  Though one wonders whether the “major change” needed is simply winning presidential elections.  On specific issues, the poll is less clear:

Of the five issues Pew asked about, Republicans were most likely to say that the GOP wasn’t conservative enough about government spending. Only 10% of Republicans thought the Republican Party’s position on government spending was too conservative. Forty-six percent said it was not conservative enough. Forty-one percent said it was about right.

Opinions were much more divided when it came to gay marriage. Thirty-one percent thought the Republican Party was too conservative on the issue. Twenty-seven percent thought it was not conservative enough. Thirty-three percent said it was about right. Tea Party versus non-Tea Party divisions surfaced here too. Those in the non-Tea Party camp were more inclined to say the party was too conservative on gay marriage, while Tea Party supporters said the GOP was “not conservative enough.”


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