After the 2012 election, Republican leaders emphasized that their party didn’t have an ideological problem, but rather that it had a tone problem.
In some ways, they were right. And the next couple weeks will test whether the GOP has learned its lessons.
While Republicans have spent the last several months litigating issues on which Democrats showed a distinct advantage in the polls — tax breaks for the rich, gun control and immigration, to be specific — the GOP has recently seized on a couple of issues that actually appear to poll in their favor: food stamps reductions and a 20-week abortion ban.
Judging by the vocal opposition to the Republicans’ actions on these issues, that may surprise some people. But in fact, polls show the GOP’s opposition to abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy polls pretty well, and its desire to rein in food stamps (which House Republicans separated from the Farm Bill this week) could be a net-positive too.
A National Journal poll from two weeks ago showed narrow support for the ban, 48 percent to 44 percent, while Gallup polling has consistently shown about two-thirds of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the second trimester (i.e. even well before the 20th week).
Similarly, Americans are on-board with reductions in the food stamp program. A January Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed 69 percent of Americans favored some kind of reduction in the food stamp program.
That’s as Americans are significantly more reticent to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare. In fact, the only government spending the poll showed Americans were more in favor of than food stamps was foreign aid and government salaries — two logical targets.
In other words: For a change, Republicans aren’t necessarily fighting a losing issue when it comes to the general public.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll win the issue.
The fact is that, with both of these issues, there is considerable risk for the GOP. And that risk comes if the GOP is defined/seen as restricting women’s rights and trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Those are the arguments Democrats will make in the coming days and weeks — as the abortion and food stamps come into focus.
Democrats and the left have proven adept in recent years at casting such debates in broad terms (think: “war on women,” 99 percent vs. the 1 percent, etc.), while Republicans have suffered from flawed messengers that came to define and/or raise suspicions about their positions (think: 47 percent, self-deportation, “legitimate rape,” etc.).
The challenge for Republicans is reminding Americans that their positions on these issues are well within the mainstream — and, polls suggest, popular — and avoiding the pitfalls that have hurt them with lower-income voters and women.
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