Republicans are on edge. The “base” is restless. Incandescent outrage over the way that the GOP’s elected representatives have dismissed and ignored their core voters is boiling over. Donald Trump, we are told, is the walking, bloviating manifestation of their righteous ire. A full-scale revolt is in the works, we are forever warned by the commentary class. It’s only just over the horizon. And yet, the revolution never seems to materialize. A look at the polls in the summer of an off year suggests that much of this dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, real as it is, is not shared by a critical mass of the party’s core voters.
Surely, spectacular and unequivocal failure wasn’t exactly what North Carolina Republican Representative Mark Meadows had in mind when he mounted a quixotic coup against House Speaker John Boehner this week. While he had to know the effort was doomed to fail from the start, perhaps he thought that his martyrdom would spark a grassroots movement of likeminded conservatives who have had enough with the House GOP leader. The measure Meadows submitted to remove Boehner from his post must be passed out of the Rules Committee where the GOP members, all of whom have Boehner to thank for their positions, are unlikely to look favorably upon it. “It isn’t deserving of a vote,” the House Speaker said, signaling that the measure’s fate is sealed.
Boehner dismissed the failed coup as merely a quirk of the American system whereby any majority that is large enough will always be near impossible to control. “We’ve got a member here, a member there, who are off the reservation,” he averred. “No big deal.” True, the Republican conference is a herd of cats. Even Nancy Pelosi faced grumbling among Democratic House Caucus members following a historic Democratic victory in 2008 for failing to embrace sufficiently left-wing policy prescriptions. She even faced a primary challenge that year from the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. But there was no leadership challenge from a representative of the ascendant progressive Democratic base. Indeed, after the party expanded its majorities in 2008, the only substantial change in Democratic leadership occurred when Henry Waxman took control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from John Dingell. If Boehner cannot keep his members in line, perhaps it is time for a change at the top.
It would be a mistake, however, to confuse a lack of faith in GOP leadership for a vote of confidence in the insurrectionists. The loudest and most boisterous voices within the conservative movement appear eager to register their dissatisfaction with GOP leadership in whatever way possible, but their prominence and overrepresentation among activist elements within the conservative firmament may be presenting a distorted view of their actual influence. Polls suggest that there is far less dissension in the GOP’s ranks than is apparent at first glance.
A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month revealed that the GOP’s favorability ratings have collapsed, and that implosion is due almost entirely to a loss of faith among self-identified Republicans. “Republicans, in particular, are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago,” Pew revealed. “About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.” So you might expect to see some of that antipathy expressed as frustration with the party’s elected leaders and a reduction in support for its candidates. So far, that has not occurred.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday indicated that the GOP is still winning the generic congressional ballot tests ahead of the 2016 election. By 39 to 37 percent, more voters would back the Republican candidate for House races. Similarly, the Senatorial GOP candidate bests the Democratic candidate by 40 to 38 percent. In both cases, the GOP secures the support of 90 percent of self-described Republicans. Democrats, by contrast, are only able to maintain 86 and 87 percent support respectively. That indicates that the Democratic “base” is slightly more restive than even the GOP’s.
As for disaffection, Republicans remain far more enthusiastic about voting in 2016 than are their Democratic counterparts. A CNN/ORC survey released this week showed that 31 percent of Republicans are “extremely enthusiastic” about voting in 2016 whereas just 18 percent of surveyed Democrats said the same. The story is not all that different for self-described conservatives. By 27 to 22 percent, more conservatives than liberals would describe themselves as “extremely enthusiastic.”
If there is a grassroots conservative revolt in the works against the GOP “establishment” that serves as the boogieman for so many political commentators, it’s so sub rosa that it’s virtually imperceptible. There is plenty of evidence that indicates that conservatives — and Americans in general — are deeply dissatisfied with their congressional representatives. There is not, however, much evidence to support the contention that the “establishment” is days away from a revolt of the masses that will result in a radical realignment. In fact, the opposite is the case; Republican voters seem prepared if not eager to affirm their support for the party next November.