GOP strategists are absolutely ecstatic over the thought that they can snatch back the Senate and make even bigger gains in the House in the 2014 mid-term elections. The glee is fed by the glitches and snafus in the Obamacare roll-out, the seeming freefall in the popularity ratings of President Obama, and polls that show more Americans actually favor the GOP on the budget and the economy than Democrats. The GOP also banks on the standard bigger turnout in the mid-terms of older, white voters than young, black, Hispanic and women voters. They are implacably hostile to the GOP. Then there's the seemingly ritual congressional loses by the party out of the White House in mid-term elections.
If it was just a case of the GOP going head to head with Democrats the rosy scenario might hold up. But the Democrats biggest trump card to stave off electoral losses is the GOP, and more specifically the tea party. It was that way in 2012 and there's little reason to think much will change in 2014. Most of the 12 Republican senators up for re-election have drawn tea party-fueled challengers. In some cases the GOP senate challengers will get a financial boost from the in-flux of funds from conservative advocacy groups that are unabashed in saying they want the GOP incumbents out.
In the days after the GOP got creamed in the 2012 presidential election, tea party leaders railed that the GOP had made its own badly ruffled election bed when it tried to be all moderate things to all people. The dilemma for the GOP establishment is that the continuing palace revolt by various tea party factions will hurt the GOP in the 2014 mid-term elections.
The tea party, though, carries an even bigger trainload of baggage in 2014 than it did in years past. The year before the 2012 presidential election, polls showed that far more Americans had an unfavorable view of the tea party than when it roared on the scene a couple of years earlier. Since then every poll has shown the continued rise in opposition to the tea party. The disaffection has cut across all lines and that includes many conservatives. The reason for the plunge in tea party backing in Red State districts support isn't hard to find. When tea party affiliated candidates scored big victories and even upsets of GOP incumbents in some races in 2010 they had one mantra and that was to shrink government, and shrink it fast. Millions of Americans cheered their war call, and voted for the candidates that yelped it the loudest. Yet it's one thing to scream about big government, bloated federal spending, and whopping federal debts, and it's quite another to actually hold Congress, and by extension, the nation hostage in an uncompromising, shrill battle to chop down government. The result was that Congress was at a virtual stall for two years and public approval of Congress dropped to lows that made used car salespersons look like public champions. The low approval numbers are still there.
The three big issues that did much to plunge tea party support were the budget, immigration
reform and tougher gun control curbs. Nothing has changed. The tea party is still wildly out of step with a majority of Americans. Polls and surveys on all three issues, especially gun control, have found that the overwhelming majority of Americans want Congress to take immediate and decisive action to break the lethargy and stalemate on all three issues. A dragged-out fight is simply no longer in the public cards. GOP leaders see this kind of trench warfare as an absolute prescription for political disaster that will play into the hands of Democrats. It will allow them to continue to lambaste the GOP as a hateful, vengeful party of nihilism and obstructionism. This is exactly what got the GOP into such deep hot water in the run up to the 2012 elections and party leaders saw where that went.
Early in 2013, the Republican National Committee made a half-hearted effort to show that it learned its lesson from the election debacle with its windy 100 page plus manifesto on ways to broaden out the appeal of the party. The manifesto has been ridiculed and ignored by ultra-conservatives who cling hard to the notion that the salvation of the GOP is to move even harder and faster back to the right.
This is a prescription for more electoral disaster. But at this point who can say whether the GOP will really heed the warning. That's less important than the fact that there's a noisy, boisterous, and well-entrenched faction in the GOP that has dug its heels in and will make life miserable for anyone in the GOP that doesn't toe their hard ideological line. As long as that's the case, the GOP's biggest foe in 2014 will remain the GOP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.