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Republicans' problem with GOP voters

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

Official Washington hailed the deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff as a significant bipartisan accomplishment. However, voters around the country viewed the deal in very partisan terms: Seven out of 10 Democrats approved of it while seven out of 10 Republicans disapproved.

Just a few days after reaching that agreement, an inside-the-Beltway publication reported another area of bipartisan agreement. Politico explained that while Washington Democrats have always viewed GOP voters as a problem, Washington Republicans “in many a post-election soul-searching session” have come to agree. More precisely, the article said the party's Election 2012 failures have “brought forth one principal conclusion from establishment Republicans: They have a primary problem.”

As seen from the halls of power, the problem is that Republican voters think it's OK to replace incumbent senators and congressman who don't represent the views of their constituents. In 2012, for example, Republican voters in Indiana dumped longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in a primary battle.

This infuriated establishment Republicans for two reasons. First, because they liked Lugar and the way he worked. Second, because the replacement candidate was flawed and allowed Democrats to win what should have been a safe Republican seat.

So, according to Politico, the Washington team is gearing up a new effort to protect incumbents and limit the ability of Republican voters to successfully challenge establishment candidates.

That makes sense to those whose sole goal is winning a majority in Congress rather than changing the course of government policy. Seen from the outside, though, it sounds like the professional politicians are saying that the only way to win is to pick more candidates like the insiders. Hearing that message, the reaction of many Republican and conservative voters is, “Why bother?”

That's why more than two-thirds of Republican voters believe GOP officials in Washington have lost touch with the party's base.

Establishment Republicans have two choices: They can act as mature party leaders of a national political party or they can protect their own self-interest.

Mature party leaders would spend a lot more time listening to Republican voters rather than further insulating themselves from those voters. They would try to understand why just 37 percent of Republicans nationwide believe the economy is fair. They would give serious thought to why just half of GOP voters have a favorable opinion of House Speaker John Boehner, the highest-ranking elected Republican in the nation.

Then mature party leaders would chart a realistic course to address these concerns and share those plans with the voters.

To succeed, this course would have to include some painful medicine for the establishment, such as giving up corporate welfare programs that benefit their friends and allies. It also would require helping Republican voters identify primary candidates who challenge the establishment but could be effective on the campaign trail.

This is a much tougher course to follow — one that would benefit the party and the nation. Unfortunately, by seeking to protect the insiders from the voters, all indications are that most establishment Republicans would rather blame the voters and keep their perks.

Scott Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports.

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