The Republican Party is doing well in recent polling. The Obamacare implosion has left the party in position to make significant gains in this year’s midterm elections. The nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report shows the Republicans to be competitive in at least seven Senate seats held by Democrats. Only six seats are needed for the Republicans to win control of the Senate.
The recent Republican success is not purely by strategy. It can be said to be as much or more in spite of the actions of Republicans than because of them. For example, the most memorable strategic move by the Republican Party in the past year was the drive to defund the Affordable Care Act. The strategy resulted in a shutdown of the federal government that caused Republican approval ratings to plummet to levels normally inhabited by used car dealers and lawyers that advertise on daytime television. The shutdown likely sealed the fate of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
Fortunately for the GOP, Democratic incompetence in formulating Obamacare is proving greater than Republican incompetence at opposing the Democrats. In a comeback that was nothing short of miraculous, only a month after the shutdown had failed and pushed GOP approval to historic lows, Republicans rebounded in the generic congressional ballot to take the lead over Democrats. The poll reported in Examiner showed a statistical tie but was a vast improvement over the deficit seen in the September shutdown.
If Republicans seriously want to win control of Congress, and eventually the presidency, they must win over moderate voters, roughly a third of the electorate according to Gallup. In order to do that, Republican candidates and supporters should avoid certain topics that make are almost guaranteed to push moderates toward the Democratic Party. Thankfully, birtherism is no longer in the headlines, but several other topics may be just as poisonous to Republican vote-seekers.
“Indefinite detention.” First, conservatives should stop talking about the nonissue of the NDAA. Examiner debunked the claim that the NDAA allowed indefinite detention of U.S. citizens two years ago, but many still believe the conspiracy theory.
The NDAA is an appropriations bill that is passed annually to fund national defense. In spite of claims by some on the right, the 2012 NDAA specifically excluded U.S. citizens and legal aliens from indefinite detention. The text of the 2013 NDAA also states that the law “shall not be construed to authorize the detention of a citizen of the United States, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, or any other person who is apprehended in the United States.” Indefinite detention applies to foreign terrorists. It does not and never did apply to U.S. citizens.
“Impeachment.” Conservatives should also give up on impeachment. While most Americans seem to think that President Obama is a mediocre president with unsuccessful policies, his personal popularity remains high according to a new Associated Press/GfK poll reported by Examiner. Even if voters don’t want to send Democrats back to Washington, they don’t want to impeach Barack Obama. Pressing the impeachment issue may actually cost the GOP votes.
Even though the Obama Administration has been rocked by scandals and poor decisions, impeachment is unlikely. As previously noted by the Atlanta Conservative Examiner, the Republican House could impeach the president, but without the ability to remove him from office due to the Democratic-held Senate this would only amount to a censure and would be seen as a victory for the president.
“Social issues.” Likewise, Republicans should deemphasize social issues. Voters are split on issues like gay marriage and abortion, but they are much more united on the twin issues of the economy and Obamacare. Even though a majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion and a plurality now consider themselves pro-life according to Gallup, the country is closely split on the issue. Recent polling (again by Gallup) shows that a slight majority now supports the redefinition of marriage. It is a much better strategy to focus on issues where a clear majority agrees with the Republican position.
Only a third of voters approve of Obama’s handling of the economy according to Gallup. A similar number approves of the Affordable Care Act according to Real Clear Politics. Voters disapprove of Obamacare by margins that often exceed 20 points greater than those approving. This doesn’t mean that Republicans should abandon their principles. It does mean that they should address the issues that concern voters. Poll after poll, like this Fox News poll from last week, shows that jobs and the economy are what people care about.
“Amnesty.” In contrast to the economy, immigration is an issue where many Republicans are at odds with a strong majority of voters. The Fox News poll showed that 68 percent of voters favor allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country “and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.” Even 60 percent of Republicans support this sort of immigration reform.
Although many people doubt polling data, the strong public support for immigration reform is confirmed by exit polls from the 2012 presidential election. By more than a two-to-one margin (65-28 percent), voters believed that illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered legal status. The issue may well have cost Romney the election after his “self-deportation” comment. It definitely cost him many votes from the Hispanic community.
In reality, there is no amnesty bill currently being considered by Congress. By definition, amnesty is a pardon or forgiveness. The immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is neither. Politico reported in July that it would take illegal immigrants ten years and thousands of dollars in fines and back taxes to obtain legal resident status.
When Republicans loudly decry “amnesty” at the mere mention of immigration reform, they are pitting themselves against the overwhelming majority of the American electorate. This is not a smart strategic move for a party that wants to gain a majority in Congress.
“RINO” and “establishment.” Republicans are a minority party. It is axiomatic that in order to become a majority party that the Republican Party must grow and attract new voters. Unfortunately, many Republicans seem to believe that the party can grow by dividing itself into factions and attacking successful Republican officeholders.
Polling shows that conservatives outnumber liberals in almost every state. A January 31, 2014 Gallup poll found that only three states, Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts (plus the District of Columbia) have a larger percentage of liberals than conservatives. In every swing state, conservatives outpoll liberals by double-digit margins. How then, did an ultraliberal candidate like Barack Obama win election twice?
The answer lies with moderates. In only one state, Wyoming, do conservatives hold a clear majority at 51.4 percent. In all other states, conservatives must appeal to moderates in order to win elections. The Democrats have been much more successful at that of late. According to Examiner’s analysis of exit polls, moderates made up nearly half of the electorate in 2008 and 2012. Obama won moderates by 60 and 56 percent respectively. If so-called “moderate” Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney can’t win moderates, what hope do self-styled “true conservatives” have?
It remains to be seen how and if Republicans can once again appeal to moderate voters, but a good start would be taking a moderate tone and trying to find common ground rather than demonizing each other over minor differences. Americans seldom vote for people who sound crazy or angry so Republicans would do well to present a positive vision in which, as Arthur Brooks wrote, they fight for people rather than against things. Conservatives cannot unite America without first uniting their own party.