Mark Shields: Spreading the ugly truth
Political Washington just got a welcome dose of refreshing candor.
Democrat Fred Yang, one of the bipartisan team that conducts the respected Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, took a look at the most recent numbers — showing Democratic favorite for 2016, Hillary Clinton, in a statistical tie with two less famous newcomers, a retired neurosurgeon and a deposed Silicon Valley CEO — and stated frankly, “When Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are in dead heats with Hillary Clinton, it tells us more about her candidacy than about the Republican candidates.”
Barely a year before the U.S. elects a new president, Democrats’ concern grows as voters’ feelings toward Clinton continue to cool, dropping from 52 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable when she left as secretary of state to 39 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable today, and independent voters give her more negative ratings (51 percent) than they do to the discourteous Donald Trump (49 percent).
But wait; though the Democrats are without a candidate, the Republicans are, frankly, according to the same Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, without a party. Voters may not be infatuated with the Democratic Party, giving it a 41 percent positive rating to 35 percent negative. But these same voters flunk the GOP, with just a 29 percent positive rating to 45 percent negative. Majorities of independent and Democratic voters agree that laws protecting gays and increasing legal immigration are “a step in the right direction.” But Republican voters do not. They are found in the distinct minority that would end the granting of U.S. citizenship to children born in the United States.
Only four months after the 2012 loss of the White House — when Democrats, for the fifth time in the past six presidential elections, won the popular vote — the Republican National Committee was unsparing in its autopsy of the party’s failures. Urging a renewed outreach to female voters, the report declared, “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too.”
Wise advice, given an electorate that has changed, just since Bill Clinton was president, from 87 percent white to 70 percent white. In a country that in the past three years alone has grown dramatically more tolerant and accepting of differences, Republican 2016 campaigns have basically ignored such advice and instead devoted time, effort and energy to exposing and banishing heretics than to seeking and welcoming strangers.
It turns out that Republicans don’t really much like the Republican Party. Even before the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, Republican voters, when asked whether they were “satisfied or dissatisfied” with the effectiveness of Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, answered “dissatisfied” by a 72-23 percent margin.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump has a case of political halitosis, which is evident when he earns a positive rating from just 44 percent of party voters. If Trump is the answer to Republicans’ prayers, that amounts to a very serious indictment of either politics or religion.
Given the anxiety and pervasive pessimism of voters, what we could be facing next year is a national campaign in which neither major-party nominee, even if running unopposed within his or her own ranks, wins a majority of the vote. The winner could indeed require a more unacceptable and less appealing opponent against whom to run. That, sadly, is the news from the banks of the Potomac River.