Does the GOP have a popularity plan?

I know we already talked about the new CNN poll — everyone saw the chart, right? — but combing through the internals (pdf), another thought came to mind.

To briefly recap, in the wake of the debt-ceiling fiasco and subsequent economic news, no one in Washington is especially popular, but support for the Republican Party has deteriorated faster and more severely. Only 33% have a favorable opinion of the GOP, as compared to 59% who have an unfavorable opinion. The latter is the worst either party has fared since CNN began asking the question two decades ago.

But let’s take this a step further and put it in a larger context. In December 1998, when Republicans insisted on launching an impeachment crusade against President Clinton, the GOP’s support took a tumble — 57% at the time had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. As of this week, the party’s standing is slightly worse.

In November 2006, around the time of the midterms that swept Democratic majorities into the House and Senate, the GOP had a 38/52 rating. Two years later, around the time of the second Democratic wave, Republicans were still at 38/54.

In other words, when the GOP suffered through some serious electoral setbacks, they enjoyed more support than they do now.

That debt-ceiling hostage strategy was genuinely awful for the country. But it didn’t do the Republican Party any favors, either.

With all of this in mind, what do you suppose GOP leaders and officials intend to do about it? By that I mean, when a party’s support stumbles to two-decade lows, it stands to reason that same party might want to take some steps to improve its public image and become more popular.

So, what do Republicans have in mind? My guess is, nothing. They won’t care. They could get considerably more popular by moving away from the far-right fringe and working with Democrats on some measures that matter, but I’m fairly certain they’d prefer unpopularity to cooperation with those they perceive as communist Kenyan Nazis.

As far as GOP leaders are concerned, they’ll probably be able to get by anyway. Come a year from now, Rove and the Koch brothers will pump secret money into key races; Fox News will rally the troops; and voter-suppression tactics will keep Dems from the polls. It’s tough for a wildly unpopular party to win, but Republicans would almost certainly rather take their chances than govern.