GOP 2010 wins won't be votes of confidence
All signs point to significant GOP victories in 2010, but Republicans would be mistaken to think the public is enamored of their party.
Just as Democrats misread their 2008 success as a mandate for too-liberal government, there's every danger that the GOP will assume that the American electorate is drinking tea.
The Tea Party movement -- angry, conservative and motivated -- is increasingly setting the tone for GOP campaigning this year.
In Florida, it has decreed that former state Speaker Marco Rubio, not incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist, will be the GOP candidate for senator, and that in Utah, three-term conservative Sen. Bob Bennett will not be the GOP nominee.
In Arizona, the Tea Party mentality is also forcing Sen. John McCain, once a champion of immigration reform, to contort himself into a Minuteman in an effort to survive a Republican primary challenge from firebrand former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
The GOP needs to remember, though, that no poll shows that more than 18 percent of U.S. voters identify themselves as Tea Party members.
The CBS/New York Times poll of Tea Partiers in April showed how out of the mainstream the movement is, compared with voters in general.
Among all voters, President Barack Obama had a 50 percent approval, 40 percent disapproval rating. Among Tea Partiers, it was 7 percent approval, 88 percent disapproval.
Asked if Obama "shares the values most Americans try to live by," 57 percent of all voters said yes, 37 percent no. Among Tea Partiers, it was 20-75.
Seventy-seven percent of Tea Partiers called Obama "very liberal," and 92 percent said he was moving the country "toward socialism." Among all voters, 31 percent said he was very liberal, and 52 percent believe he's moving toward socialism.
That last number is a mark of how out of step Obama and his party are with the views of the country. According to a late-April Washington Post/ABC poll, by 56 percent to 40 percent, voters prefer a "smaller government" performing "fewer services" to a "larger government" doing more.
But the poll showed that, by 77 percent to 15 percent, voters believe that Obama favors bigger government.
Almost all the polls show a public deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, disapproving of most of Obama policies and downright contemptuous of the Democratic Congress.
The early April Quinnipiac University poll showed that by 55 percent to 40 percent, the public disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy and health care; by 56 to 38, his job-creation policies; and by 59 to 34, his efforts at deficit control.
A late-April Pew poll showed that only 33 percent of voters think that the Democrats' stimulus package helped the economy.
Congress' average approval rating, according to RealClearPolitics.com, is 22.5 percent, with 70.5 percent disapproving.
The George Washington University Battleground survey showed that only 36 percent of voters approve of the job congressional Democrats are doing and 57 percent disapprove.
All this--along with history and recent election results--point to a GOP victory in November, possibly a blowout and a Republican takeover of the House.
The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls shows a virtual tie in the generic congressional ballot, though the Rasmussen survey of likely voters shows Republicans up by 6 percent, perhaps presaging a "wave" election like 1994 or 2006.
But if Republicans think they are what the country is looking to for governance -- or that Obama is marked as a one-term president -- they need to look more closely at the polls.
That same Battleground survey showed that job approval of Republicans in Congress is lower than that for Democrats -- 32 percent, with 59 percent disapproving.
The Pew poll showed that the Democratic Party has a favorability rating of 38 percent -- and the GOP, 37 percent. Democratic congressional leaders had 38 percent approval, Republicans 30 percent.
Polls all show that roughly 60 percent of voters like Obama personally and, by similar numbers, say that George W. Bush is more to blame than Obama for deficits and the country's economic condition.
When the Washington Post/ABC poll asked voters whether they trust Obama or Republicans in Congress more to handle various issues, they chose Obama by 49 percent to 38 percent on the economy, 52-35 on regulating the financial industry, 45-41 on controlling the budget deficit and 49-39 on health care.
All of this strongly suggests voters mean to punish Democrats this fall, not install Republicans, especially Tea Party types.
That message might come through loud and clear if Crist, running as an Independent, beats Rubio in Florida and if the Democratic survivor of next week's Pennsylvania Democratic primary beats former Club for Growth chief Pat Toomey, who drove incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter out of the GOP.
Regardless of the outcome of individual races, the best thing for the GOP -- maybe for the country--would be for Republicans to take control of the House and assume responsibility for governing the nation, not just opposing Obama.
It might help Obama, too, to be forced to deal with Republicans and, if he's up to it, shift his policy approach to the center.
This assumes, of course, that both the GOP and Obama are not so locked in ideologically that they can't adjust. Let's hope for the best.
Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.