GOP may be counting its chickens too soon

Republicans are ecstatic over their performance in the stimulus debate, but they probably shouldn't be celebrating just yet.

Published February 9, 2009 8:00PM (EST)

All of a sudden, Republicans are happy again, in a way they haven't been for quite some time.

"It would be an understatement to say GOP lawmakers were pumped after unanimously opposing the stimulus bill in the House," Byron York writes in the Examiner. "Although they lost, they were thrilled that not a single Republican voted for what all agreed was a terrible bill... Republicans have won the first big message war of the Obama administration."

The Washington Post has a similar look at the party's mood. The paper quotes Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Republican whip, as saying, "What transpired . . . and will give us a shot in the arm going forward is that we are standing up on principle and just saying no."

All this comes on the heels of what has generally been a sense of triumphalism among party faithful recently. They recognize that they had no hope of stopping the stimulus altogether, and believe the GOP won as much as it could by scoring a political victory in the debate over the issue.

But as I wrote in an earlier post, a new Gallup poll shows that the win here may really be in the Democrats' column, at least for now. A CNN poll released just a little while ago provides more evidence of that. CNN found that while approval for Congress overall was low, Americans had a pretty high opinion of Democratic leaders, who garnered a 60 percent approval rating, compared to 39 percent of voters who said they disapprove of the job they're doing. By contrast, a majority of respondents -- 55 percent -- disapprove of Republican congressional leaders.

Other results in the poll were consistent with a CBS News survey that our Vincent Rossmeier wrote about last week. Both show that the public gives Obama high marks for reaching out to the GOP, but don't believe the effort has been mutual.

Now, it is true that the CNN poll, like others, has shown some public support for certain parts of the Republican position on the stimulus. People generally say they want to see less spending in the bill, and more tax cuts. But given these larger numbers, it seems very early for the GOP to be celebrating.

One word of caution on CNN's numbers: They show 76 percent of respondents saying they approve of the job Obama is doing as president. That's a good deal higher than in other polls. It seems like the pollsters pushed undecideds to declare one way or the other, but that doesn't necessarily explain all of the discrepancy, and it is possible that this sample was particularly favorable to Democrats.

Update: There's one non-poll related item I forgot to mention here, and that is the pressure the business community's putting on the GOP to support the stimulus.

Republicans have lost their toehold in New England because their supporters there were traditionally moderate on social issues and pro-business on economic ones, and the party's turn to the right alienated them at the same time that it drove independents to the Democrats. Business groups like the Chamber of Commerce have stuck by the GOP anyway, but they're in favor of the stimulus and aren't afraid to buck the party on it. If Republicans further alienate those groups, they could be in even more trouble politically.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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