Remember that picture of Chris Matthews looking upset at the announcement of a Republican sweep in the midterm elections?
There he was — arms crossed, frowning intensely — looking at the results like a man who just lost a lot of money at a game of cards.
It was gleefully shared around by Republicans and conservatives rejoicing in the fact that Congress was now back in the hands of the GOP, with the hope that President Obama’s agenda would finally be put in reverse.
If only Matthews and those same Republicans could see what would happen in the GOP-controlled Senate on July 26.
The MSNBC host’s frown would’ve turned into an ear-to-ear grin. All those optimistic conservatives would’ve shed a few tears at the thought of the brutal disappointment that awaited them this congressional term.
On Sunday, Sen. Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders kneecapped conservative amendments to a highway bill proposed by conservatives including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. This action protected funding for Planned Parenthood, killed legislation targeting sanctuary cities and resuscitated the Export-Import Bank. (RELATED: McConnell Angers Conservatives By Blocking Defunding Planned Parenthood, Kate’s Law)
Planned Parenthood, sanctuary cities and the Export-Import Bank are anathema to grassroots conservatives. Two of the measures — on Planned Parenthood and sanctuary stories — had outrageous national stories that provided the needed impetus for action.
Instead, the future of Planned Parenthood’s half-billion-a-year funding, sanctuary cities and the Ex-Im bank were all saved from the jaws of defeat by Republican leaders.
It would be easy to say this result was shocking. But it’s not. This latest incident is par the course from the Republican masters of Congress. But it was.
Up until to Election Day, these GOP chieftains promised to bring sweeping change to D.C. and duke it out with Obama.
They have done everything but what they promised to do.
On executive amnesty, they rolled over and played dead.
On Obamacare, they put up half-a-fight before giving it more funding.
On abortion, they previously allowed a few moderate members to derail popular legislation on the eve of January’s March for Life.
The only thing Republican leaders have shown any muscle in trying to get through is Trade Promotion Authority — a measure requested by Obama to give him more power and less congressional oversight.
Naturally, Trade Promotion Authority is despised by the base and could hurt the GOP in the upcoming election season. (RELATED: The GOP’s Foolish Embrace Of Obama’s Trade Deal)
To call Republican leaders useless would imply that they are, in fact, doing nothing on behalf of their core constituency. It’s worse than that. Republican leaders seem to doing their most to fight against their own base.
And it’s not like powerful GOP figures don’t publicly air their contempt for the people who keep them in office. John McCain called all the people who showed up to hear Donald Trump speak in Arizona “crazies” — even though those same people narrowly saved him from an electoral upset in 2010 after the senator acted like a border warrior in the primary race.
It’s not much of a surprise, then, that rank-and-file Republican lawmakers now have a historically-low favorability rating among voters in their own party.
Anyone wondering why Donald Trump keeps surging in polls in spite of all the establishment hand-wringing can stop wondering.
Congressional Republican leaders have no one to blame but themselves for the unhappiness of conservative voters. What’s the point in voting Republican if the party is going to do nothing it promised when it attains power?
This question is rarely posed to Democrats, who always seem intent on pushing their agenda and working for their interest groups. It would be one thing if Republicans were alienating conservative voters to uphold principles, but that’s certainly not the case.
There’s an argument to make that the Republican Party simply exists to perpetuate the personal prestige and power of its leaders rather than to promote the principles and interests of its followers.
That’s why nearly a third of Republican voters are choosing a reality-TV star with a treasure trove of insults over veteran politicians this election cycle.
A positive result of this tumult could be the party getting a clue and adopting a firmer posture and an agenda more in tune with its “Silent Majority.”
However, the GOP could very well double-down on its current path and pave the way for even more disappointments and failures in the future.
The rising level of alienation in the party is due to a majority of the base feeling that it is being taken for granted. The GOP expects conservatives to show up Election Day, no matter which policies or candidates are on the ballot — as long as they come with the elephant brand.
Republican lawmakers seem more interested in taking stances on issues like immigration, trade and corporate welfare which are very much out of line with their most reliable voters. At the same time, they expect the core constituency will still vote Red when it comes down to a choice between a Republican and a Democrat.
But the growing discontent and the embrace of Trump should send a clear signal to Republican upper echelons that this demographic is tired of its low priority and lack of respect.
They want their voices heard and their issues addressed.