Congress solidly in Republican hands for the first time in eight years, and no one is more frustrated by that condition than conservatives.
Late Friday, the GOP-led Congress passed a temporary spending measure to avert a “shutdown” of the Department of Homeland Security, but that does not resolve the issues surrounding a fight over Obama’s executive actions on immigration. In the House, 52 GOP members bucked leadership and voted against the bill that many saw as being tantamount to capitulation in the fight to de-fund the implementation of those orders. It passed, however, with the aid of Democratic votes.
“One senior House GOP source told Fox News that the nearly 200 Republicans who backed that bill were ‘super mad’ at those who left them hanging,” Fox reported. The impasse over Obama’s immigration measures remains, but Roll Call’s reporters recently discovered that there is an arcane parliamentary rule that could result in a clean funding bill passing both chambers and reaching the president’s desk without Republican leaders actively having to force their members to surrender. Given the tenuous nature the congressional GOP leadership’s position, caught between the immovable object of the White House and the unstoppable force of congressional conservatives, that seldom-used rule must look like an increasingly tantalizing course of action.
This is just the latest episode that is leaving conservatives to believe that Republican leadership in Congress does not have the best interests of their party’s grassroots in mind. In the last week alone, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to split the bill that would have limited funding to DHS and the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to recommend the nomination of Loretta Lynch to the Senate have been seen as betrayals by many in the conservative movement. For some Republican 2016 hopefuls, the temptation to capitalize on that frustration is proving impossible to pass up.
On Saturday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused House GOP leaders of being afraid of the consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act (despite the myriad symbolic repeal bills that have passed the House, the latest one occurring as recently at February 3).
“It’s leadership and other members who, I think, are fearful of being criticized for putting anything out there that could be attacked. If not, why wouldn’t we have had a vote by now?” he told reporters at the anti-tax Club for Growth’s winter meeting. “I would hope, though, that we’re honest enough to say, we campaigned on getting rid of Obamacare.”
Jindal failed to note that Republicans in the Senate have been pressing for the interpretation of a rules governing budgetary reconciliation that would allow the upper chamber to pass a full repeal of the ACA with a simple majority vote rather than with the support of 60 Senators (requiring at least six Democratic defections). Latest week, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that such a maneuver would not be possible.
Still, as a political attack, the GOP electorate is fertile soil in which to sow dissatisfaction with their congressional leaders. According to a Fox News opinion poll conducted from January 11 to 13, only 29 percent of self-described Republicans and just 25 percent of those who identify as conservative have a favorable opinion of Speaker John Boehner. 40 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of conservatives are disinclined to express a favorable opinion of the House Speaker.
McConnell fares no better with Republicans in this survey. Only 27 percent of GOP voters and 25 percent of conservatives view the new majority leader favorably. In that poll, however, McConnell benefits from his limited name recognition among Republicans. His unfavorability ratings were relatively low (23 and 27 percent respectively), but that is due in large part to the fact that 30 percent of those surveyed in each subgroup had never heard of him while approximately another 20 percent hadn’t heard enough about him to form an opinion.
So congressional GOP leaders are relatively unpopular and attacking them amid a presidential campaign is a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe not necessarily. While Boehner may be viewed unfavorably by a plurality of Republicans, they still approve of the job he has done as Speaker. According to Gallup’s early January polling, nearly a majority – 49 percent – Republicans approve of the job Boehner has done in office. There is no comparable data available for McConnell, but it is reasonable to expect that, like Boehner, his job approval rating trends slightly higher among Republicans than do his personal likability ratings.
A campaign theme that now integrates attacks on Republican congressional leaders may generate some traction for the likely but thus far relatively uninspiring Jindal presidential campaign. Real Clear Politics’ polling average currently pegs Jindal in a three-way tie for last place along with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Sen. Rick Santorum. But it would seem like there is a significant and growing constituency within the Republican Party that will react favorably to these kinds of attacks. Jindal may be the first prospective candidate to make them as the 2016 primary race heats up, but it would be surprising if he were the last.