A new Wall Street Journal poll set to be released Tuesday finds little change in the race for the Republican nomination. Donald Trump leads the field with Ben Carson in second. Jeb Bush, once the presumed frontrunner, continues to fade into the pack.
Bush’s troubles are emblematic of a larger problem facing the Republican party.
According to the WSJ poll, Republican primary voters would prefer a House Speaker who stood on principle, rather than one who comprised to pass legislation. Even if such a stand meant the House got less work done, 56 percent of GOP voters wanted a Speaker to stand on Republican principles as opposed to just 40 percent who would prefer compromise to get results.
That 16-point margin, expressed even when the consequences of a principled stand are framed as a less productive Congress, goes a long way to explain the waves rippling through the Republican nomination.
To many in Washington and the media, the current unrest in the House over the selection of a new Speaker is a story of an intransigent conservative block with unrealistic demands. But for a handful of obstinate conservatives, the story goes, House Republicans would be able to easily select a competent lawmaker to take the place of John Boehner.
Lost in this well-spun story is the reality that House members are very close, and very responsive, to voters in their districts. John Boehner was forced to resign the Speakership for a very clear reason; GOP voters are fed up with Republican leadership in Washington. It is likely that more than a few establishment Republicans dreaded facing the upcoming primaries with Boehner at the helm.
One doesn’t need to be an experienced pundit to realize that something unique is happening in the race for the Republican nomination. The two candidates leading the field with a combined 47 percent, Trump and Carson, have never before run for elective office. Both have held the top two spots in the race for more than three months, longer than the time between now and the first votes are cast in Iowa.
Sen. Marco Rubio, perhaps the last great hope for the Republican establishment, earns just 13 percent of the vote nationally. Bush, whose support has dropped in half over the summer polls just 8 percent, sandwiched between Sen. Ted Cruz at 9 percent and Carly Fiorina at 7 percent.
It bears repeating that Bush’s family has been on a Republican ticket in 6 of the last 8 Presidential elections. Bush’s 8 percent is far below where he should start a Presidential campaign among Republicans, not where he should be after more than 3 months of aggressive campaigning.
Four leading Republican candidates, Trump, Carson, Cruz and Fiorina, are running campaigns explicitly against the deal-making that has consumed Republicans in Washington. Together these 4 command over 60 percent of the Republican vote.
At some point, Republicans in Washington would do well to realize the very simple message being sent by their own voters. It’s not us, it is you. We have a problem with you and your entire approach to governing and articulating and defending the principles we believe.
Since reclaiming the House majority in 2010, the Republicans in Washington have tried virtually every trick they know to seem relevant and engaged. With Congressional approval ratings reaching a point that can’t be measured by any polling, they might as well try conservative governance and standing on principle.
After all, they are in fact in the business of representing their constituents. The message from their supporters couldn’t be any clearer or louder.