First Thoughts: A divided GOP cannot stand

Why Republicans are losing the shutdown fight per the NBC/WSJ poll: They’re divided -- just look at the Tea Party vs. non-Tea Party split… Why Democrats are winning: They’re united… There’s now a sense of urgency for both the GOP and Obama to open the government… NBC/WSJ poll shows the shutdown’s boomerang effect: Health law now more popular, majority wants the government to do more… Poll also shows economic confidence dropping like a rock… Republicans speak at Value Voters Summit… And “Meet the Press” will have IMF head Christine Lagarde.


*** A divided GOP cannot stand: As our new NBC/WSJ poll makes clear, the government shutdown has been a disaster for the Republican Party. The GOP is getting more blame for the shutdown than it did in 1995-96; the party’s favorability rating is at an all-time low; and Democrats now have an eight-point lead in congressional preference (the last time it was that big was in early 2009 during Obama’s honeymoon period). And there’s a simple reason why the GOP is losing this fight: It’s divided. Tea Party Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing by a 72%-25% margin. However, a plurality of NON-Tea Party Republicans disapprove by a 49%-42% In addition, 69% of Tea Party Republicans believe the GOP is demonstrating strong leadership and standing up for what they believe in, versus 29% of them who say they’re putting their political agenda ahead of what’s good for the country. But those numbers are reversed among NON-Tea Party Republicans -- 53% say they’re putting politics first, while 41% think Republicans are standing up for what they believe in. And then there’s this: Among Tea Party Republicans, Ted Cruz has a 52%-4% fav/unfav rating. But among non-Tea Party it’s 13%-23%. As the saying goes, a house divided against itself can’t stand. And that’s what’s going on in with the shutdown. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said this morning, there are now two Republican parties.

*** While Democrats rally around Obama: By comparison, Democrats have rallied around President Obama. One of the reasons for Obama’s falling poll numbers over the summer is that Democratic approval for the president dropped below 80%. But in our new NBC/WSJ poll, Obama’s approval rating among Dems is now 82%-14%. That explains why his approval rating actually INCREASED two points in our poll -- from 45% to 47% -- even though just 33% of independents and only 9% of Republicans approve of his job.

*** A sense of urgency -- for both the GOP and Obama: With Republicans divided and losing the shutdown fight, and with Democrats united and winning it, there is most definitely a new sense of urgency among Republicans to end this shutdown ASAP. Indeed, your First Read authors will be shocked if the shutdown continues, say, past Tuesday (Monday is a federal holiday). During yesterday’s Obama-House GOP meeting, the big development was that the president, per a Democrat familiar with the conversation, opened the door to giving Republicans a concession to reopen the government -- with the understanding that the concession would be something the GOP would have ALREADY GOTTEN during normal budget talks (maybe like repeal of the medical device tax). While Democrats and liberals might howl at any kind of concession, our NBC/WSJ poll contains a big flashing warning: This country might be the midst of a Great Political Depression. In the poll, 60% say they would fire every member of Congress if they could. If you’re the party of government, you sometimes have extra motivation to restore faith in government. The president’s position in the meeting with House Republicans wasn’t hostile; if anything it was slightly conciliatory.

*** The boomerang effect: Here are maybe the most worrisome numbers for the GOP in our poll: After the shutdown, the health-care law has become MORE popular, and a majority believes the government should be doing MORE. Per the poll, 38% see the health-care law as a good idea, versus 43% who see it as a bad idea -- up from 31% good idea, 44% bad idea last month. In addition, 50% say they oppose totally eliminating funding for the law. That’s up from 44% who said they opposed that move in a Sept. 2013 CNBC poll. And by a 52%-to-44% margin, respondents believe the government should do more to solve problems. Back in June, the public was split, 48% to 48%, on whether the government should do more or less. “That is an ideological boomerang,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). “As the debate has been going on, if there is a break, there is a break against the Republican position.”

*** Economic confidence drops like a rock: Beyond the politics, the poll finds that the government shutdown and the debate over raising the debt ceiling have made Americans more pessimistic about the country’s direction and economy. Just 14% believe the nation is headed in the right direction – a 16-point drop from last month. In fact, the last time it reached this level in the NBC/WSJ poll was during the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, only 17% think the U.S. economy will improve in the next 12 months, which is down 10 points from September. And 63% say the budget negotiations between Obama and congressional Republicans have made them less confident about the economy. “All you can say is -- what a waste,” said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) about the shutdown and fiscal standoff.

*** Obama meets with Senate Republicans: NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that Senate Republicans are set to meet with President Barack Obama later this morning at the White House. As House Republicans negotiate on what started as a short-term fix, Senate Republicans are on a parallel track that could potential shape a longer-term fiscal fix. An imperative with Senate Republicans: Re-opening the government. That's been a key difference with the House GOP. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facilitating the talks, which include a wide range of deal-making GOP senators. First among them is Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who initially led this push. Also at the table at varying points have been Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Bob Corker, and Rob Portman. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is playing a key role as a liaison to Democrats in leadership, and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is also involved. The broad areas of discussion include:

-- a potentially long-term extension of government funding

-- a long-term debt limit increase

-- a repeal of the medical device tax

-- income verification under the president's health care law

*** Republicans speak at Value Voters Summit: As the shutdown continues and as Congress tries to find a way out, the annual Value Voters conference takes place in Washington, DC. Among today’s speakers (from 8:40 am to noon ET): Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). (It will be interesting to see how many of these senators choose to speak to the Value Voters crowd instead of meeting with the president with other Senate Republicans later this morning.) The speakers from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm ET: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rick Santorum. The evening speakers include Mike Huckabee, Jim DeMint, and E.W. Jackson. Given the GOP’s image issues right now, about the last thing the party needs is a conference like Value Voters -- if it ends up showcasing the more unpopular elements of the GOP. Tone is pretty important today.

*** On “Meet the Press” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews IMF head Christine Lagarde.

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