Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. It’s now an official wing of the Republican Party.
As poll after poll after poll shows Americans angry with the GOP over the government shutdown, Tea Party Republicans are still trying to spin this disaster as a win for the GOP. This epic denial brings back memories of Election 2012, when Republicans believed right up to the last minute that the reelection of Barack Obama was a scientific impossibility.
Not surprisingly, the chief purveyor of the latest fairy tale is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who spun it for his GOP colleagues at a Wednesday luncheon. Here is his argument, which has worked its way into Tea Party talking points: In November 1995, 51 percent of voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown; a mere 28 percent blamed then-President Clinton. Every poll shows that the GOP is being blamed for the shutdown this time as well. But it’s by a smaller margin than in 1995. Break out the Champagne.
Not so fast. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out Thursday found that the public blames the Republican Party more for the shutdown than President Obama, by a 22-percentage-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent). This is essentially the same as the 1995 margin. What will Cruz say now?
It’s true that Americans are less than thrilled with President Obama and congressional Democrats. Their approval ratings are nothing to celebrate. But electoral politics is a zero-sum game. If one side loses, then the other side wins. Success depends on being just slightly less odious than your opponent.
With their shutdown shenanigans, the GOP is making Democrats look more attractive by the day. Gallup reported that the GOP’s favorability rating dropped 10 percentage points (from 38 percent to 28 percent approval) since September, giving it the lowest favorable rating for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. As a comparison, the Democrats dropped only 4 percentage points in the last month, to a 43 percent approval rating. Even among the party faithful, the GOP’s unfavorability rose 8 percentage points from September. Democratic Party unfavorables among Democrats rose only one percentage point during that period.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll had similar bottom-of-the barrel findings: “24 percent of respondents have a favorable opinion about the GOP, and only 21 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party. Both are all-time lows in the history of the poll.”
Meanwhile, the poll found that, “President Barack Obama… has actually gained a bit of altitude during the shutdown, with 47 percent viewing him positively, compared to 45 percent in September.” A 47 percent approval isn’t a great accomplishment. But gaining while your opponents are dropping is all you need to win in the zero-sum game.
Then there are the recent numbers for Tea Party leader Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who helped lead the campaign to shut down the government over Affordable Care Act funding. A Brigham Young University poll found that Lee’s favorability in Utah has plummeted 10 percentage points (from 50 to 40 percent) since June. Among his own party, approval has dropped to 57 percent from 71 percent. On whether Lee should compromise with Democrats on a budget, even if means funding Obamacare, 57 percent of Utah voters polled said yes. Sixty-five percent of independents and 51 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans also prefer compromise.
The poll doesn’t appear to be an outlier. Another Utah survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for KSL-TV and Deseret News, found that 56 percent of Utah voters said it wasn’t worth shutting down the government to repeal the health-care law. Nearly half reported disapproval of the Tea Party’s influence on the government shutdown, and more than one-third expressed disapproval of Sen. Mike Lee. It doesn’t bode well for Republicans that voters in such a conservative state are greeting their antics with such disapproval.
As for Democrats, they just need to keep doing what they are doing. Jim Kessler, one of the founders of the centrist think tank Third Way, put it this way to me: “It’s like the two campers in the woods. A bear shows up and one guy is putting on sneakers and the other says, ‘You aren’t going to outrun the bear’ and the other says, ‘I just have to outrun you.’ Right now, Republicans are the barefoot camper.”