I went out into the rain on Tuesday to vote in the special primary election for the candidates who will oppose one another in November to be New Jersey’s next U.S. Senator. The election was occasioned by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, surely one of the most liberal senators to have ever represented the state.
I was the only one voting in the polling station around midday so it can be said that turnout was low to invisible. I had a nice chat with the election workers who found the idea of a Republican actually living in town something akin to discovering some rare species here.
In New Jersey I think it is safe to say that Gov. Christie will romp to reelection in November. The Democratic Party has put up a sacrificial candidate, Barbara Buono, who virtually no one knows is even running against him. New Jersey is a Democratic state, but the Governor has shown a capacity to attract votes from them. After superstorm Sandy hit, he welcomed President Obama just before the 2012 elections and many Republicans were aghast at how cordial he was. They still are, blaming him in part for Obama’s reelection.
A recent Pew Research Center national survey, conducted July 17-21 among 1,480 adults, including 497 Republican and Republican-leaning voters, asked who they saw as the party’s emerging leadership. While Rep. Paul Ryan who ran for Vice President in the last election had “the most positive image (65%) among GOP voters, Sen. Rand Paul (55%) and Sen. Marco Rubio (50%) ran a close second with Sen. Ted Cruz, most identified with the Tea Party, also did well.
By contrast, Chris Christie, drew “a more mixed reaction among the roughly three-quarters of Republicans who offered an opinion”; 47% viewed him favorably while 30% expressed an unfavorable impression. While Christie’s positions on gun control and the environment may earn Democrat votes should he run for President in 2016, they will cause many Republicans to just stay home if he is the party’s candidate. This happened to Mitt Romney as well.
Based on the Pew Center’s findings, it would appear that the Republican Party is rather sharply divided between its moderates and conservatives. It is fair to say that unless the party can come up with strong leaders with conservative views and programs to offer a way out of the nation’s current economic stagnation and related problems, it is going to have an uphill struggle to get its candidates elected in 2014 and beyond.
So far the party has lost two presidential elections by offering two very squishy candidates, McCain and Romney, who did not ignite strong support among Republicans. Republicans are depressed, but they are also angry and the angriest among them are its Tea Party faction.
“By 54% to 40% Republican and Republican-leaning voters want the party’s leaders to move further to the right,” said the findings of the Pew Center survey. Tea Party Republicans “overwhelmingly favor moving in a more conservative direction, while moderates and liberals would like to see the party take more centrist positions.”
The moderates are a minority within the party and will make up an even smaller share of the likely primary electorate. Republicans who are paying any attention to the 2014 midterm elections want candidates who will take on the Obama administration and Democratic candidates in a vigorous way.
Two issues, immigration and government spending, were top concerns among the Republicans surveyed with most saying the party is not conservative enough by roughly a two-to-one margin. When it comes to government spending, the margin is four-to-one. On gun policy, the majority said the party’s position was about right.
Both Republicans and Democrats have internal tensions. A third of those surveyed from either party thought there was too much compromise with the other, while another third thought they had not compromised enough.
The power of the Tea Party movement is often over-stated by political observers. The Pew survey found that “Tea Party Republicans have influence in the GOP partly because of their high level of political engagement. Overall, they make up a minority (37%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationally.” The survey noted that “27% of all GOP voters are non-Tea Party conservatives, while 29% are moderates who do not agree with the Tea Party.”
This is, of course, an extrapolation from the survey’s results and is subject to change depending on events and issues in the future.
At the end of the August recess the members of Congress will return and Republican Senators and Representatives will have heard from those who attended their town hall meetings. They are not happy no matter whether they favor Tea Party viewpoints or not, but they are focused on bread-and-butter issues as opposed to conservative views on abortion, gay marriage, and other social issues. That should come as no surprise.
Republicans have been trying to recover from the last two elections that demonstrated the party was doing something wrong. They want its leaders in Congress and in the Party to address the machinations of President Obama, but are frustrated by the fact that the nation’s mainstream press is largely part of the Democratic Party machine. This poses a very big problem for Republicans and independents.
An even bigger problem, however, appears to be the divisions that exist within the Republican Party itself. If the economy does not improve—and it gives little real evidence of doing so—and unemployment remains high, those divisions may narrow in the months ahead that lead up to the midterm elections. If so, the odds will favor Republican candidates.
One thing is sure. The Republican Party today is not your father’s GOP that elected Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Those halcyon years are over.
© Alan Caruba, 2013