"The Presidency" column appears in U.S. News Weekly.
The Republican Party remains in dire straits. Consider the analysis of Andrew Kohut, the founding director and former president of the Pew Research Center.
Recently, in the Washington Post, Kohut wrote that he can recall only "one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today." That was the Democrats in the late 1960s and early 1970s when liberals succeeded in "radicalizing" the party's image, he noted. The overzealous left turned much of the public against the Democrats as the party of "acid, abortion and amnesty" for Vietnam draft dodgers. Yet, today, he continued, "The GOP has come to be seen as the more extreme party, the side unwilling to compromise or negotiate seriously to tackle the economic turmoil that challenges the nation."
The ongoing debate over same-sex marriage, reinforced by the current Supreme Court case on the issue, is an example of the GOP's plight. Same-sex marriage used to be a wedge issue that divided the country. And Republican opposition to gay marriage worked to the GOP's advantage politically. No more. Most Americans now support the idea, leaving the Republicans out of sync.
A new poll underscores the GOP's problem. Two-thirds of voters disapprove of the Republicans in Congress and nearly half give negative ratings to the Republican Party overall.
The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic research firm, found a "deep disconnect" with the GOP that's particularly strong within the Rising American Electorate—persons of color, unmarried women and young voters 18 to 29 years old.
The survey also found that nearly 6 in 10 voters give the economy a negative rating and "pocketbook-level indicators" have not improved in recent weeks. More than half of the Rising American Electorate has been forced to cut back spending at the grocery store, and nearly 40 percent of them have "had to move in with family or had someone move in to save money."
Nearly 60 percent of unmarried women "do not feel the national political debate is raising issues important to them, which include social insurance benefits, child care and economic support," the firm added. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, says the economy is still tough for unmarried women, and many of these women have "pulled back" from their previous political engagement and their commitment to the Democrats because they don't see their issues being addressed in Washington.
Unmarried women's support for Democrats has dropped from a 32-point advantage last November to 23 points today. But their dislike for the Republicans is even more intense, says Greenberg, the former pollster for President Bill Clinton. The poll was conducted for the Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps.
The positive side for the GOP is that many party leaders recognize the problem. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, released a party "autopsy" earlier this month acknowledging that the GOP has deep problems. But, as Kohut points out, one problem that Priebus didn't discuss was "the emergence of a staunch conservative bloc that has undermined the GOP's national image."
"The party's base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns," Kohut noted in his Washington Post piece. "They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage." These staunch conservatives now represent 45 percent of the GOP base, Kohut estimated. And they have a huge, sometimes controlling, influence on the Republican nomination process for president and other offices.
It's a rough road for the GOP. But they can take solace in the fact that the Democrats managed to make a strong comeback. They pulled themselves together, moved to the center, and won the presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 with Bill Clinton, and the presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 with Barack Obama. American politics tend to swing like a pendulum, and at some point GOP fortunes are likely to improve if they spruce up their image and broaden their appeal.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.