The Problem, Dear Brutes, Lies Not In Your Stars…

On Neil Cavuto yesterday, Bill Kristol offered the view, common among Republicans, that there seems to be more enthusiasm for people not running for the GOP presidential nomination than for anyone in the race. (Kristol mentioned Paul Ryan).

Well, if there’s anything that brings Americans together in these polarized times, it’s that we hate the Republicans in Congress. But in the world of conservative activists who pick the nominee, the GOP is popular:

The CPAC straw poll doesn’t only ask for Presidential and Vice Presidential picks, it also asks how poll-takers view Republicans in Congress. This year, the CPAC conference straw poll was also coupled with a national poll of conservatives, and this revealed a big divide between conservatives who were at CPAC and those who were not. The poll asked conservatives if they approved or disapproved of the GOP in Congress. Among CPAC attendees, a 70% approval rating. Among conservatives not at the conference: only 48% approved.

This was a stunning disconnect. The activists at CPAC are in love with the GOP Congress, but outside of the hotel, even conservatives are starting to have doubts. It isn’t surprising that conservatives in the country at large are not completely sold on the GOP Congress, its legislative achievements are paltry and it nearly sent the country into a default with the debt crisis. The fact that the activists within the CPAC hall aren’t letting any of that register shows just how hermetically sealed CPAC is from the wider country.

It’s hard to imagine the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” GOP base getting really psyched about Paul Ryan’s plan to shift health care costs onto seniors. The problems with the Republican Party are structural, not personality based. As Michael Tomasky put it: “It’s not a new candidate the right needs. It’s a new electorate.”

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