Juan Williams: GOP's anger turns in upon itself

Juan Williams: GOP's anger turns in upon itself
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With the first GOP primary debate this week, the Republican Party will be at the center of the nation’s political attention.

This should be a high time for Republicans.

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The party won control of the Senate last year while holding its majority in the House. Republican insiders love to brag that the party controls a majority of governorships and state legislatures. President Obama’s approval numbers have improved but only modestly: he is at 45 percent approval in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average of polls, with 50 percent of the public disapproving of his job performance.

Given the nation’s historical preference for switching the party in the White House every eight years, the Grand Old Party should be having a grand old time heading into the 2016 races.

But a new Pew poll shows the party’s brand falling off a cliff, even among Republicans.

The late July poll found only 32 percent of voters holding a “favorable impression” of the GOP and 60 percent taking an “unfavorable view.” An early July Gallup poll also finds the Republican Party struggling for its footing on a steep downward slope, with only a 35 percent approval rating.

The biggest surprise is Pew’s finding that the slide in GOP support is primarily the result of Republican voters pulling away from Republican politicians.

At the start of the year, 86 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of their party. That figure has now fallen to 68 percent. According to Pew, that is “the lowest share in more than two years.” The poll also found an 8-point drop in the number of independent voters who view the GOP favorably, from 37 percent down to 29 percent. It is not surprising that, among Democrats, the view of the GOP has worsened amid its disarray. Only 14 percent of Democrats hold a favorable view of the GOP, down from 18 percent.

It is a surprise that backbiting, anger and contempt are this summer’s themes for Republicans. Just last November, after midterm election victories, the GOP base was energized and slinging darts at President Obama.

Now those same Republican are firing inside the tent, and with special delight at Republicans in Congress.

The depth of the disillusionment is clear. Only 28 percent of Republican voters give Congress a favorable rating, even though Republicans are in the majority in both houses.

The Republican discontent with its congressional leadership is tied to President Obama’s success in keeping his agenda on track: securing ObamaCare, blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, and winning fast-track authority for trade deals. Anyone listening to Republican talk radio these days can testify to the right wing’s disappointment that GOP control of Capitol Hill has not derailed the president.

Rush Limbaugh, the king of right-wing commentary, recently described Republican leadership in Congress as having “gone to mush.” He contrasted the failure of the party’s top leaders with the constant media attention and rising poll numbers for the provocative billionaire Donald Trump.

As Trump goes for the GOP presidential nomination, Limbaugh explained to his listeners, he is “filling the void,” because “the people of this country are understandably fed up.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment MORE (R-Texas) called his own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks MORE (R-Ky.) a liar on the Senate floor for allowing a vote on the Export-Import bank. And, also last week, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) took the extraordinary step of making a motion for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to “vacate the chair.”

The Pew poll can be read as evidence of the far right’s unhappiness with Republican leaders for not breaking down all attempts to govern. One of the few poll findings on which the GOP wins big comes when all voters are asked which party is “more extreme in its position.” Fifty-two percent of Americans now tell Pew that the GOP is a party of extremists while only 35 percent hold that opinion of Democrats.

It is also worth noting that while the Republicans are taking turns lashing each other, the Pew poll found Democrats gaining in favorability among voters. “Today the gap [between the Democrats and the Republicans] is as wide as it has been in more than two years,” and moving in favor of the Democrats, Pew reported.

Republicans who were elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party wave in the 2010 and 2012 elections have never shown an interest in governing. Instead, they drive the activist base of the party with acid rhetoric suited for talk-show hosts. They engage in political brinksmanship, forcing one crisis after another but shredding the party’s brand with voters.

The grandstanding has made stars and presidential candidates out of some of the Republicans, including Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.). Trump, a total congressional outsider, has taken it to an even higher level. He throws the GOP Congress in with President Obama for failing to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and not producing quick-fix economic policies.

Cruz accuses President Obama of being “the leading financier of terrorism” because of the Iran deal. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another GOP White House candidate, charges the president with leading Israel to “the doors of the oven.”

All this venom is intended to feed the furies of the most extreme people in the party’s base.

The GOP is currently a smashing talk-radio show or reality TV. But as a political party with responsibility to govern, its poll numbers are sinking under the table well ahead of November 2016 – the ultimate ratings period.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.