As if the primary season isn’t reason enough for Republicans to succumb to a sense of despair and futility, the latest polls show the president’s numbers are rebounding.
As Ed Morrissey has noted, his ratings on the economy and jobs are stuck, and his popularity is actually declining, but Barack Obama is still a slight favorite for re-election — even against Mitt Romney, whose purpose on earth is to seem electable.
Fortunately, parsing polls is often a waste of time, especially this far out. But the time is now for Republicans to start worrying about what they’re going to tell themselves — and the country — if Obama wins.
Maybe the Republican establishment cares more about saving the party than saving the country. Maybe four more years of Obama will prove a devastating nightmare from which there is no recovery. Whether or not those things are true, the right faces a painful internal argument over what a second Obama victory tells us about what’s happening to the American people.
Already, conservatives have long struggled with a love-hate relationship here. As a whole, Americans stubbornly refuse either to reject the Democrats’ worldview or to banish the GOP to the margins it occupied in the ’30s, ’40s, or ’60s. Libertarians, whom Obama seems sworn to offend to their very core, now face a similar predicament.
Why aren’t the president’s horrible policies driving voters away in droves? If ex-movement conservatives like David Frum are to be believed, it’s because the Republican Party has become a self-enclosed fantasyland, aggressively policed and enforced.
But the phenomena Frum describes may more be consequences than causes of the Republican predicament — which has less to do with the inner workings of the conservative mainstream and more with the simple fact that many Americans will vote for Democrats no matter what.
If Karl Rove’s signature strategy was to maximize turnout among a finite GOP base, the animating principle of the Democrats does him one better: expand the base, defined as those Americans who won’t vote against you no matter what Democrats in office do or don’t do.
The goals are two: First, a big bloc of voters who will show up at the polls and do their duty no matter how many promises have been broken, how many systemic problems have been shirked or exacerbated, and how little there is to show for it beyond high-profile acts of ideological tokenism.
Second, a huge population of nonvoters who won’t show up to vote against you — no matter how little the government’s massive transfers of wealth have improved their lot, or how socially immobile they have become, or how little real hope, as opposed to the kind you find only on a poster, they truthfully retain.
There’s always a little more support to be wrung from both these groups of supporters by demonizing Republicans, especially in the way Republicans themselves like to demonize (“They hate you for who you are!”).