One thing that remains striking about our politics right now is the degree to which public opinion among Republicans is increasingly isolated and drifting away from the rest of the electorate. You see this on pretty much every major issue facing the country.
Case in point: Immigration. A new Washington Post poll finds that a path to citizenship is supported by 57 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of independents and 59 percent of moderates. But this is opposed by 60 percent of Republicans. Only 35 percent of them support it.
As the Fix team puts it: “being involved in a comprehensive immigration reform deal might not be such good politics — at least as it relates to the party’s base — for ambitious Republicans.”
This dynamic is apparent on other major issues, too. Marriage equality? A recent Post poll found that Americans think it should be legal by a 58-36 margin. Independents believe this by 62-33; moderates by 71-24. But Republicans oppose marriage equality by 59-34, preventing GOP officials from embracing it.
Health care? A January New York Times/CBS poll on Obamacare found that only 33 percent of Americans want to “repeal the entire law.” But 62 percent of Republicans want the entire law repealed, forcing GOP officials to continue serving up myriad repeal proposals that may only serve to keep the base’s repeal fantasies alive.
The safety net and the welfare state? Americans say they they want spending cuts in general. But numerous polls have shown broad opposition to reducing the deficit with deep entitlement cuts, and the public wants the deficit reduced partly with new revenues from the wealthy. But Republican officials continue to genuflect to the Ryan vision, which would radically restructure Medicare and roll back huge swaths of government in the name of balancing the budget in 10 years. Why? Partly because Republicans continue to see opposing any new taxes on the rich as an organizing principle, and partly because balancing the budget polls well with the GOP base as a moral issue, as GOP pollster Whit Ayres recently put it.
All of which is to say that there seems to be little incentive for GOP politicians, particularly ones who are insulated from national opinion in safe districts with a lot of GOP base voters, to compromise with Obama or Democrats. But that puts the party as a whole out of step with the broader public on many major issues facing the country. Paging the political science types: How do Republicans get out of this hole? Is this a serious problem? Does it matter?
* Public wants deficit reduced partly by taxing rich: Here’s more confirmation of the above: A new Morning Joe/Marist poll finds:
Which of the following comes closest to your view about how to reduce the federal budget deficit?
Mostly cut government spending, including entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid: 17
Mostly increase revenues such as limiting tax deductions on higher income: 35
Do both, cut spending including entitlement programs and increase revenues by limiting tax deductions on higher income: 42
A total of seventy-seven percent want the deficit reduced either through higher taxes on the rich or a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. Only 17 percent support the GOP position of doing it mostly through spending cuts. Yet Republicans continue to claim the sequester is a victory for them.
* Tom Coburn still in talks over background checks: Despite reports that talks with Senator Coburn over background checks have fallen apart, HuffPo reports that they’re very much on. Note this Coburn quote:
“I’m for enhanced background checks because it’s a way for you to go online to make sure you’re not selling your gun to someone you wouldn’t want to have it,” Coburn said at one stop. “About 80 percent of criminals get their guns from us” responsible gun owners. “The responsible way is to check them against this NICS list and they don’t know that you did it.”
He’s still gettable. As I recently reported, Dems have offered a compromise in which records are only kept on gun sales through commercial portals. But in the end, all new record keeping may get scrapped.
* No, public sentiment has not “waned” on guns: The aforementioned Morning Joe/Marist poll finds that 87 percent of Americans support expanded background checks, and six in 10 say gun laws should be stricter. We keep hearing public sentiment has dissipated on guns, but support for background checks remains overwhelming three and a half months after Newtown.
* Background checks are the prize: The New York Times nails what so few other news orgs seem able to comprehend: The centerpiece of Obama’s gun proposal is not the assault weapons ban, it’s expanded background checks. One dispiriting nugget: Senate Dems are likely to push back debate on the proposal to the week of April 15, so talks with Coburn over background checks can get resolved. Time, obviously, is not on Dems’ side here, but it appears they have no choice.
* The “gun lobby goons” are at it again: Dana Milbank has a funny but dispiriting piece linking all the gun-brandishing that went on at the NRA presser yesterday to the organization’s goon-like flouting of its power over Congress when it comes to the gun proposals being debated.
It’s worth reiterating: This power is rooted in its ability to rapidly mobilize an impassioned but small minority to cow lawmakers, leading them to ignore the realities of public opinion on crucial policy questions facing the country.
* GOP brand is in the toilet: A new Quinnipiac poll finds the approval rating for the Congressional GOP is mired at 19-71; among independents it’s 19-70. While the GOP is tied with Dems on the economy and even holds an edge on the deficit, 53 percent say the Democratic Party cares about the needs and problems of people like them, versus only 37 percent who say the same about the GOP — a crucial economic and empathy metric.
* And Marco Rubio faces a choice: The Post has a brutal editorial taking apart Senator Rubio’s too-clever-by-half dance on immigration, in which he keeps creating escape hatches to bail on the emerging compromise if the heat from the right gets too intense. This is key:
Is the Florida senator the once and future darling of the tea party, throwing bombs from the sidelines? Or is he a substantive architect of a workable new system? It’s one or the other; Mr. Rubio needs to decide.
Plainly, Rubio can’t decide which is better for his 2016 presidential ambitions.