It’s easy to mistake Congressional Republicans as being in self-destruct mode.
Their approval ratings are hideously low—just 16 percent, according to Gallup.
Several Republicans led by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tried to embrace Hispanics via immigration reform, only to expose sharp internal divisions within the party about the economics and morality of amnesty for undocumented workers.
One casualty of the division was Jason Richwine, who resigned his post as a Heritage Foundation analyst after it was reported that his doctoral dissertation claimed low Hispanic immigrants IQs would lead to “more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market.”
House Republicans called for approving a budget this year through “regular order,” but they now balk at trying to reconcile their plan with the $975 billion in tax hikes passed by Senate Democrats. A health insurance measure touted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was pulled from the floor last month because Tea Party-style GOPers opposed it. And for the umpteenth time since 2010, Republicans have made the repeal of Obamacare a top priority.
The situation looks clownish to many Americans. It’s a political piñata for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said last week, “Nothing is their agenda and never is their timetable.”
But the disarray should not be interpreted as a death knell.
Republicans may be plumbing the depths of their ideological soul, after changing demographics have put them at a clear disadvantage in national elections. However, there are still key sources of unity inside the party and multiple trends working in their favor for next year’s elections. These explain why the GOP can survive despite its self-induced chaos.
Obama Still Has To Negotiate With Them – White House economics adviser Gene Sperling said last week that President Obama is doing everything he can – through lunches, dinners and golf outings – to woo Republicans and “soften the ground” for a possible deal on the budget.
But the administration still claims it will not negotiate over an increase to the $16 trillion-plus debt ceiling, even though its linked closely to the budget.
Congressional Republicans know it’s not in their best interests to bargain with the president on his terms – especially if it traps them in another deal like the fiscal cliff agreement of last January that raised tax rates on the top 1 percent of earners.
“Extraordinary measures” taken by the Treasury could keep the government running through October, even though the debt ceiling will be breached at the start of next week. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Oh., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., say that raising the government’s borrowing authority must include concessions from the White House, a major point of unity for the GOP.
“I can tell you with certainty I think it’s extremely unlikely that any Republican is going to vote to raise the debt ceiling without doing something about the debt,” McConnell told reporters last week.
Republicans (Have Yet to Make Any Concessions) – Obama likes to praise what little progress has occurred despite the gridlock.
The 2011 Budget Control Act—which previously raised the debt ceiling—contained more than $2.1 trillion in deficit reduction. When Obama submitted his 2014 budget, he claimed it reflected concessions from two years of talks with congressional Republicans.
Boehner sees none of that momentum.
“We’re not in any different position today than we were three years ago,” Boehner said Thursday.
That’s not entirely accurate. The unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1 percent to 7.5 percent. The annual budget deficit should shrink by roughly $450 billion this year compared to 2011. And since Americans filed their taxes in April, the government reported a $112.9 billion surplus last month.
Republicans view the country’s fiscal situation as the cumulative impact of post-financial crisis deficits that have caused the national debt to approach $17 trillion. The long-term trajectory of entitlement programs suggest an overwhelming debt burden decades into the future. And Republicans still hold that any additional tax increases will slow growth. This narrative is uncontroversial inside the party.
“Dealing with the long term structural spending problem we have is, frankly, that’s at the core of it,” Boehner said. “But we also know we can’t cut our way to prosperity. We need real economic growth. And that’s why you continue to hear a lot of discussion about tax reform, regulatory reform.”
GOP Congressional Seats Are Safe – All one needs to remember in understanding the Republicans’ intransigence, says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, is that Obama carried just 209 congressional districts in 2012, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney won 224 districts. This is because of careful, data-driven gerrymandering.
“Republicans believe it is to their advantage to keep President Obama from racking up major accomplishments,” Sabato told The Fiscal Times late last week. “They have a very good chance to keep the House in 2014 regardless, and they are almost certain to gain seats in the Senate.
“So what is the argument for cooperating with President Obama? It's in the public interest? Puh-leaze,” he added. “We're talking about partisan politicians.”
Americans Hate Congress, but They Like Their Representatives – There was a twist in the Gallup poll released last week showing Congress with a 16 percent approval rating.
Americans still have a relatively positive impression of their individual representatives, giving them a 46 percent approval rating. Of those surveyed who could identify the name of their congressman, favorability climbed to 62 percent.
Demographic Inevitabilities Have Yet To Fully Take Hold – Veteran pollster John Zogby said Republicans have “been on this race course of promoting ‘true conservatism’ over the national interests,” but there aren’t enough conservative voters to build a lasting majority with this path.
Zogby suggests that 2014 could be a demographic “game-changer,” but the major shift will occur in 2032. That is when the Democratic-Millennials (born between 1978 and 1995) become a third of the electorate, instead of 19 percent share the generation currently has.
Republicans have several years to either adjust or ossify. In the mean time, 60 percent of voters are older than 46, according to weightings by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling. This helps to explain why—according to PPP—54 percent of U.S. voters dislike Justin Bieber and 75 percent have never been to a music club.