As the GOP leadership in the House struggles to unite its fractious members around a deal to avoid a government shutdown or a default on the nation’s debt, polling from Pew out this week shows why that may be harder than ever.
Tea Party Republicans, Pew found, are much more disillusioned with their party leadership than they have been since they came to D.C. in 2011.
"The job rating of GOP leaders among Tea Party Republicans has fallen 15 points since February, from 42% to 27%. Disapproval has risen from 54% to 71% over this period,” said the Pew summary. “There has been no similar decline among Republicans who do not agree with the Tea Party. "
In fact, among Tea Party Republicans approval ratings of the GOP leaders has steadily declined since December of 2011. Meanwhile, those who do not identify with the Tea Party have been gradually warming to the leadership. Support among these "traditional" Republicans for the GOP leadership has gone up to 42 percent from 38 percent in December 2011.
Even with their outsized influence, Tea Party Republicans are not a majority of the GOP. Nor are they particularly popular among those who identify themselves as Republicans. An earlier Pew poll found that while the vast majority of Republicans (60%) say they disagree with the Tea Party, almost half of Republican primary voters (49%) say they agree with the Tea Party values.
In other words, the GOP primary electorate is already more inclined to support a Tea Party candidate. Now, that electorate is shaping up to be as anti-establishment and anti-incumbent as ever. The more closely identified a Republican incumbent with the Republican leadership, the more vulnerable he/she becomes in a GOP primary.
And, this makes the job of GOP leaders to cobble a deal on a CR or the debt ceiling that much more difficult. Republican incumbents are already skittish about the possibility of losing their seats to Tea Party conservatives in a primary. This only confirms their fears.
This is also coming at a time of growing frustration among GOP members and their staff about the tactics of conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth who they see as stirring the pot of GOP discontent. Former NRSC communications director Brian Walsh wrote in US News this week that GOP House members, "have an important choice to make - to sheepishly follow groups that are currently existing solely to attack Republicans, while ignoring Democrats, or to focus on winning the long-term war.."
Moreover, there's very little evidence that these outside groups have either the money or the influence and infrastructure to deliver on their threats to primary "wayward" GOP members. However, no member has volunteered to check out whether this paper tiger has any teeth.
As we've also seen, the more the GOP looks like it is being held hostage by its most extreme elements, the harder it will be for the party to re-brand itself as a party that can appeal to the folks in the center. Plus, many of those in the 60 percent of Republicans who say they disagree with the Tea Party are many of the big check writers to the GOP. You don't keep a majority in the House funded on press releases.
Just another reason that House Speaker John Boehner has the toughest - and least fun - job in Washington.
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