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The Morning Plum: How’s that GOP “makeover” going?

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How’s that GOP “makeover” going? Not too well, according to the internals of the new NBC/WSJ poll. If these findings aren’t enough to persuade Republican strategists that the party needs a rethink on the issues — and not just a change in tone and packaging — then it’s hard to imagine what will.

The poll finds that Democrats hold a double digit lead over Republicans on many major issues facing the country — and finds solid majority support for key initiatives on Obama’s second term agenda. Dems hold a 22 point advantage on looking out for the middle class; an 18 point advantage on dealing with Medicare; a 16 point advantage on health care; a 15 point advantage on reducing gun violence; a 14 point advantage on Social Security; a 10 point advantage on energy policy; a seven point advantage on immigration; and a three point advantage on the GOP signature issue of taxes. (Republicans prevail on the deficit, spending and national defense; more on this below.)

Meanwhile, Americans support raising the minimum wage by 58-36;  they want gun laws to be made stricter by 61-34; and they support giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status by 54-42 (in fairness, this question isn’t precise in that the wording doesn’t specify a path to citizenship).

Strikingly, the poll finds that 64 percent say the GOP is “emphasizing a partisan approach in a way that does not unify the country,” versus only 22 percent who say the party is “emphasizing unifying the country.” For Obama those numbers are the other way around — 43-48.

This is the political atmosphere within which the battle will unfold over who is to blame for the damage done by the sequester. Now, in fairness, Republicans are favored on the deficit and controlling government spending. But even here, when you drill down deeper, you find that fifty two percent say the automatic across the board cuts to the budget are a bad idea; only 21 percent say they’re a good idea. Republicans will take solace from the finding that a plurality wants the sequester replaced by a plan with “more cuts.” But the poll question doesn’t inform respondents of the option of replacing the sequester cuts in part with eliminating tax breaks enjoyed by the rich and corporations, an oversight that casts doubt on the value of this finding. Many surveys that accurately poll the two parties’ positions on curbing the deficit — cuts only versus a mix of cuts and new revenues — show a solid advantage for the Dem position.

The broader point here is that a party entering into a political battle like this one with such generally low standing with the public starts with a built-in disadvantage on top of the party’s disadvantage on the substance of the issue itself.

* GOP is “losing ground”: A remarkable observation about the new NBC/WSJ poll from MSNBC’s First Read crew (no link yet):

In the dozen issues we tested, the GOP’s numbers dropped in most of them even as the Dem number didn’t budge. This is about a party LOSING ground, not about Democrats gaining it.

* High disapproval of GOP’s handling of government spending: Contra the NBC/WSJ poll, a new Post poll finds that a whopping 67 percent of Americans disapprove of Congressional Republicans’ handling of federal spending, versus 52 percent who disapprove of Obama’s handling of it. As Chris Cillizza notes, however, this is partly driven by the high number of Republicans who disapprove of the party’s handling of it — presumably because they don’t think the GOP is pushing hard enough for cuts.

It appears GOP base voters have developed extraordinarily high expectations in the spending cut department — another reason why it will be hard for some GOP lawmakers to compromise with Dems on deficit reduction.

* A victory for gun control: Last night, Robin Kelly won the Dem nomination against “gun rights” pol Debbie Halvorson in the special election in Illinois’ second district, and she’s heavily favored to win the general. The race is a victory for Michael Bloomberg and gun control advocates, who had aggressively targeted Halvorson to signal to the political world that there is a spending counterweight to the NRA out there and that gun reform can be turned into a winning issue.

The question now is whether Bloomberg’s group will spend big money to pressure lawmakers into passing Obama’s gun reform package, and whether that can work in red states and moderate districts.

* Suburban Republicans could support gun control: Kasie Hunt has a good piece on something I’ve been pointing out here: The support from suburban Republicans for expanded background checks and other measures could end up being key to getting something passed. As Hunt notes, Senator Joe Manchin, a red state Dem with a strong “gun rights” record, is quietly reaching out to Republicans to round up support.

* SCOTUS to hear voting rights challenge: Today the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a central piece of the Voting Rights Act, and the Post has a good editorial explaining why the law’s work is not done and why it still does play a crucial role in fending off potential efforts to deny voting rights. As the editorial notes, there’s no clear reason for Congress not to have the authority to use strong measures to protect these rights.

* John Roberts’ long war against the Voting Rights Act: Adam Serwer has the key historical context: John Roberts, who will help decide the law’s fate, has a long history of trying to weaken the law, dating back to when he was a young lawyer in the conservative movement three decades ago. What’s at stake:

If Section 5 is overturned, voting rights groups say, the federal government’s ability to ensure Americans are not denied the right to vote on the basis of race — at a time when race has been used as a proxy for party identification — will be severely weakened.

* The sequester will not be uniformly felt: Philip Rucker has a useful look at how the sequester cuts will mostly bring the hammer down on military communities and urban areas, and not so much on suburban middle class communities. The politics of the sequester will be made more challenging by the fact that millions of Americans may never feel the pain of the cuts.

* And GOP divided on sequester replacement plan: Senate Republicans appear to be divided on the plan hatched by the GOP to give the Obama administration flexibility to implement the sequester cuts itself, yet another sign that this is a nonstarter. This is significant in that Republicans have not yet been able to unify behind an alternative to the sequester (those alternatives that passed the House in the last Congress are now dead, and there’s no sign Republicans can or will try to pass one again).

What else?