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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

There’s two things that Republican voters seem to really agree on, according to a new Pew Poll: They know they need to change to win the White House, and they like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

A full two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the poll finds, agree the party “needs to make major changes” in order to do better in future presidential elections, with 59 percent agreeing that it needs to “reconsider some positions.”

However, a slight majority of Tea Party members and sympathizers — 51 percent — say that the party should simply make a stronger case for existing stands. While only 37 percent of Republican-leaning voters identify with the Tea Party, that group makes up 49 percent of those who are most likely to vote in a primary.

A majority of Republicans, 54 percent, say the party should be more conservative, but the party is nearly split in thirds when asked if elected Republicans had compromised too much, too little or just right. Most Tea Partiers, however, think leaders have compromised too much.


Given that most congresspeople and senators occupy safe seats, they’re far more likely to lose in a primary election than to a Democratic opponent, which means Tea Party opinions will probably drive the GOP agenda even as its popularity wanes with Republicans.


Moderate and non-Tea Party voters prefer “less conservative” stands on same-sex marriage, abortion and gun policy, while the Tea Party wants the GOP to become “more conservative” on all three issues. But there is some clarity when it comes to government spending and immigration, with all Republican voters agreeing that Republicans should take “more conservative” stands on these two issues. Reducing government spending is always a popular stand — until people are asked about what should be cut specifically.

When it comes to 2016 candidates, Paul Ryan is the clear favorite among Tea Partiers and non-Tea Partiers alike, which could mean that he’s the one Republican in Congress who might be able to get away with a crazy plan to push immigration reform.


Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is the second most popular potential 2016 candidate, with 70 percent of Tea Party respondents approving of him. The man Paul called “The King of Bacon,” Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), has the highest unfavorable rating with the Tea Party at 35 percent. And though Christie is extremely popular in his state and is the only national Republican with positive favorable ratings with independents and Democrats, he does not break 50 percent approval with Republicans overall.

Republicans’ most predictable problem, given that they don’t hold the White House, is the complete lack of an identified leader in the party. A majority say that there is no leader or that they don’t know who is leading the party.




Photo: Brett Ryan via  

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at