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Tilting at Windmills

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April 28, 2009

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING PARTY.... Chris Cillizza argued yesterday that the most important number in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll wasn't 69% (the president's approval rating), 50% (the number of Americans who believe the country is going in the right direction), but rather, was 21%.

That's the percent of people in the Post/ABC survey who identified themselves as Republicans, down from 25 percent in a late March poll and at the lowest ebb in this poll since the fall of 1983(!).

In that same poll, 35 percent self-identified as Democrats and 38 percent called them Independents.

These numbers come on the heels of Steve Schmidt, former campaign manager for Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential bid, declaring the Republican party a "shrinking entity" last week -- citing the decline of GOP numbers in the west, northeast and mountain west as evidence.

It's not just this poll. The New York Times published a new poll today and found that only 20% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans, the lowest number in at least 17 years. (It may be longer, but the poll internals only go back to 1992.)

There was some talk in Republican circles recently that the GOP is finally "back in the saddle." If that's true, the horse is looking pretty small.

Cillizza added, "The number of people who see themselves as GOPers is on the decline even as those who remain within the party grow more and more conservative. That means that the loyal base of the party has an even larger voice in terms of the direction it heads even as more and more empirical evidence piles up that the elevation of voices like former vice president Dick Cheney does little to win over wavering Republicans or recruit Independents back to the GOP cause."

Which brings us back to yesterday's discussion about the party's base refusing to allow the party to progress or adapt. Indeed, while the GOP would presumably be looking for new ways to expand its numbers, Republicans are apparently intent on doing the opposite.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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How could have the "self-identified Republican" number have been that low in 1983, during Ronald Reagan? Wasn't he, you know, the greatest President ever?!?

It makes me wonder if many of the modern day Republicans now who act as though Reagan was Jesus Christ were are lying about always liking him.

Nah, that can't be it.

Posted by: rob! on April 28, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is they'll be surpassed by the Christian Libertarian party in the next general election.

Posted by: B on April 28, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Keep the faith, people.

Never ever give up your Gawd-given beliefs, if you do then Jebus will let the Debil roast you over a campfire for a bazillion years.

What's a few decades of political irrelevance compared to an eternity of sitting up in the clouds while the evil Libruls roast in Heck?

We'll see who gets the last laugh!!!

Posted by: Wingnutter on April 28, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

There was a time when you could spot a Republican by either their Brooks Brothers and wing tips or their Archie Bunker working guy outfits - Now, you just look for that tattered butternut or gray jacket and perhaps a shoe here and there. "For the Cause, For the Cause".

Posted by: berttheclock on April 28, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

There was some talk in Republican circles recently that the GOP is finally "back in the saddle." If that's true, the horse is looking pretty small.

But so cuuuute!

I actually know this guy who knows this guy who knows a Republican. We could take pictures of him on his little pony. His name is Princess Spar ... oh, wait, that would be inappropriate to disclose his cuuuute little Republican name.

Posted by: Please correct the error on April 28, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

What you lefties aren't getting is that the heart of the party, which is what's left, is of the highest quality. Pure Republicans.

Getting rid of RINOs like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney means we can focus on actual Republican principles for a change.

Hope you're enjoying running wild for the next two years. You're going to be surprised at what happens in 2010, but then you guys never see it coming, do you?

Posted by: Myke K on April 28, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

The polls may show the identification with the republican party shrinking, but I saw/heard a discussion about these polls on one of the talking head cable shows last night.

The persons in the discussion (believe it was CNN) concluded that it was good news for republicans because all of the party shrinkage was becoming 'independents' and not dumbocrats.

In the world of the corporate media rethugnican echo chamber, it is all a matter of perspective and spin.

Posted by: LaughingOldVet on April 28, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Lowest Republican identification I recall was 17% at the end of Watergate. We thought they'd never be back. All it takes is Democratic incompetence and a charismatic a-hole, and you're screwed for thirty years.

Posted by: ericfree on April 28, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Myke K, we can always count on you for a laugh (and a cutely spelled first name!)

Posted by: in vino veritas on April 28, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Myke K, is Rush Limpballs your leader?

Posted by: Ted76 on April 28, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

We thought they'd never be back.
After WW1 we thought the Germans would never be back.
After 1917 we thought the flu would never be back.
They will be back.

Posted by: Bill H on April 28, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Most of the Republicans I know, and there are a lot in southern Ohio, are embarrassed and now call themselves Independents. I know how they feel, at one time I called myself a Democrat and felt downright icky to declare myself one so I could vote for Obama in the Ohio primary.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on April 28, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Bill H is, unfortunately, correct - Arthur Schlessinger wrote in the early '80s about historic pendulum swings. Never get completely set in your comfort zone. Somewhere Nathan Bedford Forrest III is preparing for war.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 28, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if that 21% is worse than it appears. I have no qualms self-identifying as the registered Republican I am (and have been for most of my life). But I have no illusions about how stupid “my” party has become. In fact, as a recipient of RNC mailings and robo-calls, I’m more aware of their pathology than I care to be. Their anti-intellectual and obstructive BS infuriates me. I would rather endure a sharp stick in the eye that vote for these morons in the general elections.

Posted by: Chopin on April 28, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

They will be back.

But not with leaders like Gingrich, Steele, Palin, and Boehner. One of the differences between now and 1975 is that there actually was a purging after Watergate. For the last eight years, Republicans have unanimously been defending bad policy. The Viet Nam war was a bipartisan disaster. Watergate was weak tea compared to Iraq, Katrina, torture, and this economy. I don't see a six year recovery with solutions like talking hip, not dissing gay people, or purposeless tea parties.

Posted by: Danp on April 28, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

I always wondered how the Whig Party died out in the 1850s. Now I'm beginning to learn firsthand.

Posted by: Vincent on April 28, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe they can swell their numbers by merging with the hillaaryis44.org freaks. If anything, they've become even more psychotic than the Republicans since the election.

Posted by: Saint Zak on April 28, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

but then you guys never see it coming, do you?

Myke, troll or no (I'm not regular enough, anymore, to know), has a good point. Pushing forward into gaining Republican converts is critical, and thankfully something at which Obama works hard.

Hopefully Danp is right, and the retention of nutty national leaders will hamstring a conversion. But, if I remember correctly, the Repub leadership was as surprised by the Contract with America revolution as the Dems were. also, the Dems haven't exactly cleaned house, either. . .

Posted by: eadie on April 28, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK


I would probably say that you and I would be on opposite sides of the fence on a lot of individual issues but I can respect your outlook on the political landscape and your willingness to call it like it is.

For the record, I feel as you do, but about many of the leaders of the Democratic party. I think we need a change in leadership all across the spectrum.

These clowns have been in Washington 'way part their useful shelf life.

Posted by: AfGuy on April 28, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

None of this behavior by what remains of the GOP is remotely surprising if one knows anything about the history of the Conservative Movement and its 50 year love/hate relationship with the Republican Party which, throughout most of its history, was a liberal party. To make a long story short, after the 1964 landslide, Goldwater's most conservative supporters were almost giddy that they finally had the party to themselves. They were big fish in a small pond and perfectly happy that they did not have to trim their sails in order to make themselves acceptable to people they could not stand in the first place.

There is conservative intellectual tradition going back to Burke, DeToqueville, and others of this calibre. Growing out of the experience of the French Revolution, conservatism's focus is primarily on finding ways for society to balance inevitable and needed change with social peace and harmony. But the kind of conservatism we see dominent in the GOP coalition is one that deliberately provokes social disharmony because it is intent on social, cultural and political regime change in the name of an idealized utopian vision of a homogeneous society subscribing to a Judeo-Christian ethic of traditional values. Yet, since it lives in a complex and diverse environment, conservatism becomes a philosophy of destruction, separatism and tribalism.

Ever since the Gingrich revolution of 1994, the hard core Right has been doing everything it can to purge moderates and liberals from the GOP coalition so that it could have the party to itself. Karl Rove encouraged this instinct when he was riding high with his "energize the base" strategy of pursuing what in retrospect was the ludicrous ambition of a "permanent Republican governing majority." Republicans today are trying desperately to recapture the old Ronald Reagan magic, but it won't work because what they do not realize is that Reagan was popular because he exhibited hope and confidence while the present GOP thrives on fear and hatred -- the classic emotions of any right wing movement. And having empowered the hard core right for a few quick, cheap political gains the GOP now finds it impossible to rebuild a durable coalition on a rigid conservative base that despises the very idea of coalitions.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 28, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Another difference between now and the Watergate years is the South. Most white southerners *still* identified with the Democratic Party even though they were just as conservative as they are today. Watergate delayed their inevitable shift to the Republicans for the time being.

I wonder what the party ID numbers were in the middle of the Depression. The Republicans did come back eventually, but they had to totally change their philosophy to do so--they wouldn't elect a "true conservative" until Reagan in '80.

Posted by: will on April 28, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not so sure that the rebound after Watergate is a valid comparison. The GOP then was wounded, true, but it was not then the brain dead horror that now staggers about before us.

Parties can and do disappear. The pendulum will swing, but there's no guarantee that the GOP will be the beneficiary of a conservative resurgence.

Posted by: Jon on April 28, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Since these folks represent only 20% of the electorate, perhaps the media, lead by the blogosphere should begin to stop devoting so much space to this fringe group.
There are many important issues around and these are much more open to discussion.
Asto the fringe. Let them listen to Rush and treat it as the sound of elephant farts.

Posted by: plschwartz on April 28, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Ted has written a cogent and succinct description of the state of the GOP today. They are a party of hate, a party of division, and a party of all-for-me; none-for-you. One of my best friends is also a stalwart Republican living in South Florida. She is an overt racist, hates the "welfare state," hates "high taxes," and believes everyone should comport with her ideas about abortion rights. She is not tolerant of anyone who differs with her. She also is not willing to listen to any other opinions that may differ from her own and prefers to crawl into a shell and believe whatever she wants, truth be damned. So very like the base of the modern GOP.

Posted by: marvc on April 28, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

For the record, I feel as you do, but about many of the leaders of the Democratic party. I think we need a change in leadership all across the spectrum.

I continued to be baffled by how supposedly rational people can keep inisting on this equivalence thing between Democrats and Republicans.

I get a lot of email from Democratic politicians and activist groups. The Democrats are, if anything, too bland and earnest for the modern political environment. Some of them are not exactly Rhodes Scholar material, and you catch some of that annoying trimming we associate with Nelson, Pelosi, and Harry Reid, but they seem to at least be trying to do the right thing.

The progressive activists are occasionally loud (in print) but they do live in the reality-based universe. If they call someone a crook and a liar, they certainly have a lot of real crimes and lies to point to.

As Ted noted, the national Republicans have deliberately purged themselves of the mundane, earnest, rational sort of leaders and activists who used to be the core of both parties, favoring demogogues and hustlers over intellect and integrity. Their activism is mostly built on keeping up a continous burn of rage, and a lot of that rage is based on fantasy.

Right now, the Democratic party, for all its faults, is still a traditional American political party, run by "grown-ups," as we used to call mild-mannered, reasonable people back in the mid-20th Century.

The Republican party apparatus have got themselves in a helluva fix. There isn't anyone left in the party who can slap the bullies down and make the kids throwing temper tantrums stand in the corner until they calm down.

Posted by: Midland on April 28, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I can only hope that when, sometime in the future, the pendulum swings back (aka to a more-or-less functional 2 party system) the Republicans (or whatever party ends up wearing the conservative coat) will be somewhat more reality based, and less fear- and hate-mongering than the present species of neanderthal "conservative". An essentially one party system, even with an active and critical blogosphere, is not particularly conducive to an active and healthy democracy.

Posted by: Bruce B on April 28, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

If Diebold hadn't been so sloppy about hiding their e-voting machines' security flaws the GOP wouldn't have to worry about how few people support torture and warrantless wiretapping southern Christian parties.

Gaddam democracy.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 28, 2009 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

If Diebold hadn't been so sloppy about hiding their e-voting machines' security flaws the GOP wouldn't have to worry about how few people support torture and warrantless wiretapping southern Christian parties.

Gaddam democracy.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 28, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm not so sure that the rebound after Watergate is a valid comparison. The GOP then was wounded, true, but it was not then the brain dead horror that now staggers about before us."

Sorry Jon (10:46), yes it was. The Goldwater-heir Nixonians purged as many liberals and moderates as they could, and installed a team of which Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were eerily but not surprisingly reminiscent. (C, R & B's father all worked there.) Their one lasting success was bringing in Wallace-voting Dixiecrats, which gave them control of the House in the last two years of Carter's reign. By then, economic conditions, gamed by Wall Street, were so bad Reagan was able by force of personality and a great ad campaign to attract a large swath of moderates who went for Carter in '76, effectively keeping them in power until last year. If the Dems push back against innovation as they did in the 70s and 80s, most of the pieces are in place for the Reps to do it again, but harder and scarier. All it takes is a new face. So far they don't have one, but Reagan was a longshot in '74.

Posted by: ericfree on April 28, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

It is also important for people to understand how radically un-American the GOP base truly is at this moment. There is no question the founding fathers envisioned a Republic based on diversity. The Constitution's system of checks and balances, divided powers and federal structure anticipated a society made up of many different beliefs and cultures, held together by a structure which encourages cooperation while preventing any single group from becoming supreme. James Madison in Federalist 10 voices a sentiment common among the founding fathers that the real genius of the Constitution, of a "well ordered Union, was its ability to "break and control the spirit of faction." Even our national motto speaks of America as a heterogeneous society, and not a narrowly homogeneous one: "E Pluribus Unum" -- From the Many, One.

And yet, if there is a single quality that distinguishes today's largely Southern-based conservative movement it is conformity to a single standard, belief and way of life. When conservatives talk about "community" they have a very narrow vision of what that community entails. The so-called "tea parties" last week were only superficially about taxes and spending. I'm sorry, but fiscal policy just can't generate that much anger, passion and heat. And what we saw at those FOX-organized rallies were, at heart, an hysterical primal scream by cultural conservatives who feel alienated and alone in their own land and find it intolerant that their values and lifestyles are no longer dominent.

Consequently, they want nothing to do with the rest of the country. This is why the GOP in Washington shows so little interest in actual governing and why the Texas governor feels at liberty to voice ideas about Texas secession that at any other time would be dismissed as lunatic ravings. The Governor's not serious about leaving the Union, of course, but his separatist talk does reflect the inner mood and mindset of alientated conservatives whose inner defense mechanisms have led them to rally like a threatened herd around familiar and comforting conservative voices like Limbaugh and those at FOX, even as their behavior in moving even further to the right is suicide politically.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 28, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Midland, I understand your claim that Democrats are the “grown-ups” when your source of comparison is the modern Republican “leadership”. Excuse me if I remain unimpressed. During the primaries I emailed Obama’s campaign and told him to “go Cheney himself” over his stance on telecom immunity. The “grown up” stance of the Democratic leadership on investigating possible war crimes is pathetic. Either they are complicit or they haven’t the cajoles to make principled stands in support of values I believe in. I’m depressed that so many Americans are ambivalent over the usefulness of torture. Education and cultural immersion can fix ignorance. But there is no cure for hypocrisy.

Posted by: Chopin on April 28, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

With numbers like these, our two party system at this time consists of Democrats and Independents. It seems the Republicans are becoming irrelevant to our national discussions, and so I wonder why they keep getting called back to the media platform time and again. I would hope our media moguls would know they are doing us a disservice if the Republicans get air time undeserving of their "vision"! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 28, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

All good points, ericfree @ 11:14. And yet even in their post-Nixonian depraved state, Republicans were able to understand the importance of minimally competent management as an essential part of maintaining political power. Whether or not the "trains run on time" is just irrelevant to today's GOP.

Posted by: Jon on April 28, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Many excellent points are being made about the state of GOP and their prospects going forward, but let's not forget the x-factor in all of this. If the attempts to stabilize the global economy fail or a widespread and virulent pandemic erupts or a destabilized Pakistan falls under fundamentalist control, conditions and panic would make ripe soil for the lunatic fringe party™. Just like conditions following the last major global economic downturn spawned Nazi Germany, a major calamity of some type could give rise to the next scourge.

Posted by: oh well on April 28, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

oh well

Events, as you say, are always the x-factor in politics. In 1964 the GOP suffered one of the greatest landslide defeats in history. Like today many people were writing the GOP off (although I would say that today the structure of the GOP is in much worse shape given its ideological rigidity and liberal Democrats have the lessons of history to prevent a repeat of the hubris they had under LBJ). Two years later, in the pivotal 1966 mid-terms, people like Ronald Reagan came to power thanks to the backlash to inner city riots, cultural chaos and increasing racial tensions. The GOP was able to regain their footing and take control of politics by adding white ethnic Democrats to the GOP coalition. Republicans were then basically in control of the national agenda until Obama won last November, with the exception of two abberations: Carter's Watergate-backlash administration and Clinton's two plurality victories over a divided and dispirited GOP that longed for a Reagan it could not have. So, there is no room for complacancy as you say.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 28, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

It's not the "republican Party" any longer...it is the FOX Party of Republicans. It's base is composed of those people who think Beck and Hannity and Scarborough are intelligent rational leaders instead of millionaires paid to manipulate their opinions. These are their Party leaders. Like when the residents take over the asylum now run by janitors who believe they're doctors.

FOX cultivates ignorance along with hate radio for political gain and its supporters think they are the republican base and in the majority.

This insanity will not end as long as pure propaganda is presented as news and public opinion on our national airwaves. They are seeking a Hitler of their very own.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 28, 2009 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Just a quick point: the statement that this is the lowest percentage identifying as Republicans since 1983 is almost certainly a typo, with the author meaning 1973. The low point for the Republicans came in the Fall of '73 after Nixon's resignation. As a young boy I can remember reading analysis in the mainstream press speculating, with complete seriousness, that the Republican Party would vanish and be replaced by a third party, likely the Libertarians.

Didn't quite work out that way...

Posted by: TLM on April 28, 2009 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK



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