Opinion: Independents desert GOP

Last week, at a closed-door luncheon of Senate Republicans, freshman Tea Party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) showed his GOP colleagues a poll to prove to them that his strategy — shutting down the government to force the president to end health care reform— was working. 

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The poll, conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen, showed that 52 percent of voters disapproved of Obama’s job performance after the government shutdown and 67 percent said the major cause of the shutdown was ObamaCare, according to the Washington Examiner

This proves the GOP is better positioned than it was during the 1995 shutdown, Cruz said, and is winning today’s fight. 

Cruz’s selective use of polls requires his fellow Republicans to whistle past a graveyard full of scary numbers. The damage to the GOP brand is obvious with just a peek at the polls. 

A Washington Post survey showed 70 percent disapproval of Congressional Republicans while a Gallup poll found 28 percent approval for the Republican Party, the lowest figure ever recorded for either major party in the history of Gallup polling and a 10 percentage point drop in a single month. 

A Wall Street Journal poll even showed an “ideological boomerang” in which support for ObamaCare has increased during the shutdown.

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But for Republicans, the real horror show in these polls is in the deep, dark hole they are digging with independent voters. Those are the people the GOP needs if it is to pick up seats in order to gain control of the Senate in 2014 and win the White House in 2016. 

An Associated Press/Gfk poll released last week showing 57 percent of self-described independents blamed the shutdown on the GOP over the Democrats. 

The same poll Cruz cited found 42 percent of self-described independent voters blamed the GOP for the shutdown. By comparison 36 percent blamed President Obama and the Democrats. 

“There is no doubt that Congress generally and Congressional Republicans, specifically, are seen as the chief movers behind the shutdown and are paying a big price for it right now,” said David Axelrod, the head of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and President Obama’s former senior political advisor. 

Axelrod thinks the GOP’s numbers among independent voters may be even worse than the polls suggest because some of the voters now calling themselves independent have just left the GOP brand and still “think like Republicans,” according to Axelrod. 

Axelrod has a point. 

Last month, Gallup found that just 22 percent of Americans identified as Republicans. This is the lowest number in the Gallup poll since September 2011, when just 21 percent identified with the GOP. 

Gallup also found 45 percent of Americans now call themselves independent voters. That is the highest number of self-described independents since September 2011, when 46 percent identified as independent. 

It may be a coincidence but that previous high in Americans identifying as independents came the last time Congressional Republicans brought the nation to the brink of default. 

As political analyst Charlie Cook wrote last week, the Republican Party is currently succeeding in “an active, masochistic effort to isolate itself from moderate, independent and swing voters.” 

In the 2012 elections, the only silver lining for Republicans was that the party narrowly won independent voters. Exit polls showed that nationwide, Mitt Romney won independent voters by a margin of 50 percent to 45 percent. 

The polls also showed that Romney and the Republicans won the independent vote in key battleground states like North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio. 

But in Virginia, the GOP-led shutdown has coincided with Democrat Terry McAuliffe opening up a 10-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race for governor, according to the latest polls. 

Another indicator of trouble for the GOP is that moderate Democratic senators facing reelection next year in red states are standing firm in support of the president rather than trying to mollify Republican critics. 

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), whose state went for Romney by 17 points in 2012, is a top target of the National Republican Senatorial Committee next year. She shows no signs of backing down in her support of the President. 

“I don’t believe the economy or the federal government should be held hostage by a minority of Republicans who can’t get their way,” she said recently. 

Landrieu will likely be running against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy. Cassidy is one of seven House Republicans running for the Senate in 2014. 

If independent voters have a decidedly negative view of the shutdown and blame the GOP, they will certainly be less likely to elect those House Republicans to higher office.

Less than one month ago, Karl Rove spelled it out in the Wall Street Journal. The GOP strategist noted that the party’s “epic gains” in the 2010 elections “happened primarily because independents voted Republican. In 2010, 56% of independents voted for GOP congressional candidates, up from 43% in 2008 and 39% in 2006.” 

The good news for Republicans, in a poll done for Rove’s conservative Crossroads GPS group, is that 60 percent of independent voters in 10 states with competitive Senate races oppose the Affordable Care Act. But those numbers are now obscured by the outrage among independent voters over the GOP’s government shutdown. 

With Sen. Cruz leading them into a political house of horrors, the GOP has run off so many independent voters that they may have assured Harry Reid that he will remain as Senate Majority Leader beyond 2016.

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