Republicans Going for Broke On The Angry 20-30%

Texas governor Greg Abbott had choice words for President Obama and his plan to use executive power to expand gun safety laws:

“Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response? COME & TAKE IT.”

Grover Norquist went farther, comparing Obama to Darth Vader. So what is the President planning to do, exactly, that makes him some combination of Persian Emperor and Sith Lord? Mostly, expand background checks and clarify a federal rule or two:

The Post said Obama would use executive authority in several areas, including expanding background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume dealers…

Thousands of guns are sold yearly by dealers who fall between licensed dealers and occasional sellers who do not need a license. Clarification could define which sellers need to meet rules and do background checks. Alcorn said.

It’s worth remembering in this context that a full 88% of Americans support stronger background checks for gun purchases–including 79% of Republicans. This is not a contentious issue except to a very small percentage of Americans who consider owning unchecked and unregulated arsenals a sacred right (while insisting that access to healthcare is not.)

But this isn’t unusual. Seventy percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, for example. That’s not particularly contentious, either, except to America’s most bigoted elements.

63% of Americans support raising taxes on the rich and on large corporations to reduce income inequality. Only 31% oppose, with the rest uncertain. Again, this isn’t a terribly problematic issue in a normal democracy where supermajorities rule the day.

Republicans, however, are increasingly trapping themselves into a strategy that doubles down on the angriest and least moral 20-30% of the population. They do have the advantage of knowing that that demographic votes more reliably and consistently than the other 70-80% of the public. It’s true that many of these voters, especially the ones with the deadly arsenals, are incredibly passionate about their views and will not only vote but work hard to encourage others to vote their way as well.

But it’s also true that this particular demographic is declining in number. And in the long run a political party cannot succeed by continuing to court an ever slimmer set of out-of-touch voters, particularly in a high-turnout election.

Nothing in this analysis is new, of course. But it’s worth noting that this year is different in the degree to which the GOP has placed its bet on the rump 20-30%, the virulence with which it is doing so in its rhetoric, the obvious disadvantages it is working with in polling not just on the issues but also with candidate head-to-head matchups, and the rapid decline of the very voter base on which it is depending.

Yes, the GOP will probably quite well in the House for the next few years. Yes, it will continue to control large numbers of mostly rural and Southern states.

But electoral gravity cannot be defied forever. Tipping points turn into breaking points. And it’s going to be very ugly when the worst fifth of America’s population realizes that it really isn’t the silent majority anymore, and just how few friends it has left.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.