Mellman: Why does the GOP persist?

Mellman: Why does the GOP persist?
© Greg Nash

Why do they persist?

The evidence is clear: voters oppose a wall, oppose the shutdown, and favor reopening the government without funding the wall, seeing far better ways to protect the border.

A CNN poll pegged support for a border wall at just 39 percent, with 56 percent opposed.

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Quinnipiac recorded a slightly lower, but still strong 12-point margin for opponents over supporters, while the ABC/Washington Post poll put the margin at an identical 12 points. 

Indeed, every recent poll has revealed a majority of Americans opposed to the GOP wall.

An even greater 2-to-1 majority opposes the president utilizing his emergency powers to build it.

Not only do voters reject Trump’s proposal to build a wall, they dismiss his underlying rationale. Just 31 percent of Americans believe the current situation at the border constitutes a crisis that a wall would help resolve.  

By a 19-point margin, the public does not think a wall is necessary to protect the US-Mexico border and only 43 percent believe a wall would make us safer, while a 55 percent majority spurn that view. Similarly, just 43 percent accept the view that a wall would be effective in protecting the border, while 56 percent say it will not. 

By a 19-point margin Americans also say building a wall is not “a good use” of their tax dollars. 

Even larger majorities oppose using a government shutdown as a tactic to obtain a wall. According to a Quinnipiac poll only 34 percent favored that approach before it happened, while 62 percent opposed it.

And just a few days ago there was 2-to-1 support for “a bill that funded new border security measures, but did not fund a wall along the border with Mexico.”

By a similar margin, the public favored Democrats’ plan to open “the parts of the government that have nothing to do with border security while continuing to negotiate funding for the wall.”

And voters are clearly blaming Trump and the GOP for a shutdown few Americans want. Republicans are cast as the villains in this drama by 20-point margins. 

Yet, they persist. 

One has to ask why, having been shellacked in November, Republicans are so willing to earn even greater public opprobrium by employing a tactic Americans reject, in an attempt to spend money on a wall most people oppose. 

One can perhaps understand it from President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s point of view. He has proven himself an ignorant and juvenile narcissist who can’t stand failing to satisfy his every whim.

But congressional Republicans should be more rational, and instead are mostly enabling the president’s tantrum, despite the public’s opposition. 

Less than a year and a half ago, only 69 Capitol Hill Republicans were even willing to endorse funding for a wall, let alone shutting down the government in a vain attempt to subvert the public will.

Why the change?

First, the combination of gerrymandering and sorting has produced congressional districts so partisan that the vast majority of Republicans fear an angry primary electorate much more than angry swing voters. And they learned in the last cycle that Trump can make a primary electorate angry at a member who strays from his fold. (While Senate seats are obviously not subject to gerrymandering, the same principle applies). 

Moreover, most of the Republicans who were most worried about swing voters have already been defeated. House GOPers may well feel there is not much more to lose in general elections.

Leadership plays a role here as well. GOP leaders in both houses have been transformed into whimpering lapdogs, unwilling to buck a psychologically disabled and substantively ignorant president.

But whatever the situation in the House, Republicans have Senate seats to lose in two years. Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally Third Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to McConnell MORE (R-Ky.) seems determined to persist until he finds out just how many.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House Members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic Leaders for over 20 years and as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.