Republicans may not be able to field a presidential nominee with national appeal until 2020, thanks to the internal strife between their conservative wing and moderate factions, predicted a top Democratic pollster Tuesday.
Stan Greenberg, of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, is engaged in an effort called the Republican Party Project with Democracy Corps. Its aim is to identify and then galvanize Democrats around Republican vulnerabilities.
"Our goal is to put their challenges on the table and out for public discussion, and also to build confidence amongst those who are trying to challenge their role in the Congress and in the states with where the party really is," he told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Democrats have been on the defensive and acting like Republicans are the ones in control, and so yeah it is to push Democrats to be more active. Our goal is to give Democrats ammunition and to do it with real data and understanding."
Greenberg, who is married to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said his data showed that Republicans lose crossover appeal not necessarily for their policy positions but because they are perceived as beholden to corporate interests, out of touch and too extreme in their views.
And yet the GOP has a strong moderate wing at 25 percent that Greenberg said is being overshadowed by the evangelical and tea party factions. He says the GOP's best chance at winning the 2016 presidential election is to have someone like Jeb Bush, the well-liked former Florida governor, embrace his moderate persona.
"If I were Jeb Bush, I would run as a moderate," Greenberg said. "I would try to grow that 25 percent in the party, create a base so, as with [Mitt] Romney, it could carry you through all the primaries. Maybe [the conservatives] will fracture and maybe you can win the argument [about the direction of the party]."
But he said running as a moderate in the GOP would still be a challenging proposition in 2016 and that it might not work until 2020, because much of the party is still resisting building their demographic appeal despite a shrinking base.
"First of all, we know about their electoral problems and where they have to go," Greenberg said. "To me, this says they probably have to go through another election within their party before you can get to a big enough moderate group."
The data shows Republicans are more popular than Democrats with white voters and married voters, both of which are populations becoming smaller slices of the electorate.
It took Democrats about two decades to go through a similar realignment, beginning in 1984, Greenberg added.
"We had an '84 election where it was evenly divided [between liberals and moderates]," Greenberg said. He said it took until 2000 for the moderates to wrestle control, "to the point that some wondered what the difference was between [George W.] Bush and [Al] Gore in 2000."
The pollster also cautioned Republicans against using the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law, as an election issue either in 2014 or 2016.
"And it didn't work in 2012 as we know, it didn't work against the Democratic senators," Greenberg said. "So, it's been tried and I am really skeptical that it succeeds and is not interpreted as [a show of] partisanship and gridlock."
Democrats had been prepared to run against a Bush administration prescription drug program in the 2004 election, but public opposition – which topped 60 percent – vanished after the law was implemented.
"The speed at which the opposition dropped was stunning," Greenberg said. The health care law will be largely implemented in 2014.