Saturday, December 8, 2012

GOP post-election confusion

Post-election signs of national Republican Party confusion and conflict are rampant.

First came revelations that the Romney campaign and many other Republican pollsters misread the potential demographic composition of the 2012 electorate. That sparked a series of prominent Republicans to embrace the idea of immigration reform, or to speak of their party's need for more aggressive minority outreach. And there even have been Republicans making statements indicating recognition that their party's economic focus might need to change to become more appealing to middle-income Americans. Of course, some of these sentiments have met with resistance and outrage on the far right, but that was to be expected.

The long-term question for Republicans is whether it's possible for them to compete at the Presidential level under normal circumstances while avoiding splintering into two distinct factions, or perhaps even into two different political parties.

While the Republican Party's future ability to compete at the national level is worthy of contemplation and discussion, the current Republican intra-party debate also has consequences for current governance.

Most Republicans seem to be coming to the realization that they have little leverage in the current fiscal negotiations with President Obama. House Speaker John Boehner clearly would like to cut a deal, but he is constrained to some extent by conservatives' domination of House Republican ranks.

While Republicans have admitted revenues have to be part of the solution, there is clear Republican division on whether to acquiesce in raising tax rates on the wealthy by allowing Bush tax rates to expire. Republicans have refused to detail their demands for Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

Polls show the public prefers a deal with taxes on the wealthy increased, no cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and would hold Congressional Republicans most responsible if there is no deal. Atop that, President Obama's Job Approval numbers are rising to their highest levels since 2009.

Weakness of the Republican position is being underscored by elements of the business community emphasizing resolution to the problem rather than specifics. The business community generally wants to avoid sequestration scheduled to occur in January if no long-term deal is reached. And they have been making sounds indicating they might start bringing  pressure on Republicans to make a deal, regardless of political fallout.

Emblematic of that position is Business Roundtable Chairman and former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler's proposal that they agree to a five-year extension of the debt ceiling to break Republican efforts to hold the economy hostage each time the debt limit requires raising.

Republicans are in a rough spot politically, and are likely to lose on the policy front. The question of whether Republicans really want a deal is yet to be answered.

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