There is a misnomer about the “grassroots” on the right. (The misnomer is on the right and the grassroots is as well.) It goes something like this:
Longtime congressmen and senators are in a D.C. bubble and out of touch with the grassroots. The authentic expression for those people can be found among talk show hosts (many of whom reside in either New York or Washington D.C.), certain D.C.-based Washington think tanks, and the most ferocious of the right-wing bloggers and TV talking heads.
The problem: It isn’t true. Oh, and the latter group of people don’t really know what they are doing, having never been responsible for running more than a 3-hour radio show or a think tank supported by multi-millionaires and a fundraising list that must be constantly engaged.
Let’s look at who is out of touch and who isn’t, and which group is more adept at achieving conservative aims.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a principal leader of the shutdown strategy has dropped a net 25 points in a recent poll among Republican Utahns. (Net favorability went from 70 to 57 while net unfavorability went from 21 to 33 percent).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the most prominent shutdown advocate is underwater in his poll numbers. In the most recent Fox poll 44 percent view him unfavorably and 22 percent view him favorably.
The shutdown strategy is regarded unfavorably by voters in every publicly released poll. In every poll, voters blame Republicans more than Democrats. It’s gotten so bad Cruz had to cook up his own poll but even that poll showed “By a margin of 46 percent to 39 percent, voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown . . . .By a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent, independent voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown over Obama and the Democrats.”
GOP governors, the most favorably regarded Republicans, have, one after another, come out against the shutdown.
So who is more in touch with voters — Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and the shutdown squad or those squishy Republicans who’ve had to win elections time and time again from voters back home? If the shutdown squad wants to make the case that they are most representative of a sliver of the GOP (not nearly enough to win most general elections) they might have a case. But if you want to talk about voters in general or even all Republicans they don’t sync up very well. (The same is true on immigration, by the way, with voters in general and GOP voters supporting an earned path to citizenship.)
Now let’s turn to the competency argument.
Some of those most enthusiastic about the shutdown strategy are pained to admit that there was no game plan to achieve Obamacare defunding. President Obama didn’t blink. Democratic votes in the Senate weren’t there to defund or delay Obamacare.
A number of conservatives, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, make a strong case that by focusing on the unattainable defunding of Obamacare Republicans blew a chance to get other changes in Obamacare.
The same crew of characters who supported the shutdown also bollixed up the fiscal cliff deal. In December of 2012 they voted down the speaker of the House’s “Plan B.” Instead of a $1 million cut off for the Bush tax cut, the House had to accept a cap of $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families.
The only real spending discipline we have achieved in the Obama era was the 2011 Budget Control Act, which hardliners opposed. That was negotiated by GOP leaders whom the shutdown squad obsessively criticized.
In short, the evidence is overwhelming that while the shutdown squad plays well within the right-wing echo chamber, that is among those already committed conservatives who’d never vote for a Democrat, it is hugely unpopular with a majority of voters, even in conservative states. And when it comes to plotting out a legislative strategy, the series of missteps by right-wingers speak for themselves. It’s not even a close contest. (Think t-ball players vs. major leaguers.)
There is nothing wrong with pumping up the troops and telling the true-believers what they want to hear. There certainly can be a division of labor on the right just as there is on the left. (In sports terms you need college cheerleaders and a coach, but you don’t want the former calling the plays.) The problem comes when Republicans take them seriously, following their advice and their lead over the cliff and into the political abyss.