For most of us, the radicalism of today’s Republican Party is obvious, quantifiably true, and dangerous. Jon Chait recently summarized the problem this way: “The radicalism of the current Republican Party – its ideological extremism, disdain for empiricism, the inability to share or modulate power – is, to me, the central problem in American life. In the long run, the resolution to nearly every policy problem depends on the GOP refashioning itself as a normal, non-pathological party.”
And as persuasive as I find this, what’s truly amazing is that much of the GOP’s own voters are convinced the right-wing party just isn’t right-wing enough.
Rush Limbaugh, for example, was on Fox News last night arguing, “I always thought that as Republicans we opposed Democrats. We wanted to beat them. I don’t see that. I don’t see any pushback against anything Obama wants to do. The pushback’s against the Tea Party. The pushback is against conservatives. It’s a stunning thing.”
Oddly enough, “stunning” is the same word that came to my mind, too.
But it’s not just party leaders like Limbaugh. My colleague Vanessa Silverton-Peel flagged a fascinating new poll from the Pew Research Center today that found 67% of self-identified Republicans agree that their party has “major problems” that will need to be addressed in order for the party’s national candidates to be competitive. But more specifically, what does that mean?
The same poll found that a 54% majority of Republican voters want their party to be more conservative than it already is. A plurality of Republican voters believe their party has compromised too much with Democrats.
On issues like immigration, gun policy, and government spending, this national survey found most Republicans believe their party simply isn’t conservative enough.
For those of us familiar with current events, these opinions appear to be stark raving mad. Indeed, they’re so hard to believe that I honestly have to wonder if the Republicans who participated in the poll were confused by the questions.
Regardless, the results help explain a few things. It’s not uncommon for political observers to wonder aloud why GOP officials can’t move towards the mainstream, rebrand into a more sensible and pragmatic political party, and reclaim their lost legacy as a party interested in governing. The answer, apparently, is that their own voters don’t want this to happen at all. Most Republican voters apparently see literally the most extreme major political party in the post-Civil War era of the United States and think, “Nah, too moderate.”