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Tea Party Stands Alone on Key Issues

The GOP is nearly 100% unified in opposition to President Obama. But after that, there are real fissures inside the party.
A Don't Tread On Me flag flies over protesters during a rally at Leo O'Laughlin Inc. on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to Macon, Mo. Tuesday evening, April 27, 2010, in Macon. The protest was organized by the Missouri Republican Party and a tea party group called the Macon County Patriots. (AP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon)Patrick Fallon / AP

There’s the Tea Party -- and then there’s everyone else

As House Republicans pick new leaders in the wake of Eric Cantor’s stunning primary defeat last week, our new NBC/WSJ poll finds that the Tea Party is in a VERY different place on key issues -- than both non-Tea Party Republicans and the general population. It’s a stunning contrast. Take the supposedly politically charged issue of Common Core education standards (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is seeking to end his state’s involvement with these standards). Tea Party Republicans oppose them by 53%-38% in our poll. By contrast, the country at large supports them by a pretty non-controversial 59%-31% margin, and non-Tea Party Republicans narrowly favor them, 49%-42%. On immigration, the poll shows that 68% of Tea Party Republicans believe immigration hurts the United States, versus just 47% of non-Tea Party Republicans and 42% of all Americans who say that. And on the environment, Tea Party Republicans disapprove -- by a 74%-23% margin -- of a proposal that would require companies to reduce greenhouse gases, even if it means higher energy costs for consumers. By contrast, 57% of Americans and 50% of non-Tea Party Republicans APPROVE of the proposal. What’s more, 39% of Tea Party Republicans think that concern about global warming is unwarranted, while just 13% of all Americans and 7% of non-Tea Party Republicans believe that.

A challenge for GOP leaders and a challenge for 2016

So what does this all mean? For starters, it’s just more evidence of the challenge that House Speaker John Boehner and the winners of today’s contests for majority leader and majority whip have in managing their party. The GOP is nearly 100% unified in opposition to President Obama. But after that, there are real fissures inside the party -- on the issues above, as well as on others (think foreign policy and national security). It’s also a 2016 challenge for the GOP. Our NBC/WSJ poll shows that Republican respondents are divided evenly between the Tea Party and non-Tea Party. But the more committed Republicans -- i.e., your potential primary voters -- lean Tea Party. So if you’re a Jeb Bush who supports Common Core and immigration reform, are you more likely or less likely to win over these voters? Additionally, if the winner of the 2016 primaries is someone from the Tea Party or who shares its views, how will that person fare with general-election voters when it comes to education, immigration, and the environment? Yesterday, we focused on President Obama’s struggles in our poll and what it means for the Democratic Party in 2014. But these numbers above are just as problematic for Republicans, and maybe even more so long term. The fact that one half of one major party has divergent views than members of their own party -- let alone the country -- shows why it’s so difficult for the GOP to govern right now.

Breaking down the numbers:

Here are the numbers above again

Does immigration help or hurt the United States?

Republican Tea Party supporters: 68% hurt, 19% help

Non-Tea Republicans: 47% hurt, 40% help

Country at large: 47% help, 42% hurt

Support or oppose Common Core?

Republican Tea Party supporters: 53% oppose, 38% support

Non-Tea Republicans: 49% support, 42% oppose

Country at large: 59% support, 31% oppose

Approve or disapprove of proposal to reduce greenhouse gases?

Republican Tea Party supporters: Disapprove 74%, approve 23%

Non-Tea Republicans: 50% approve, 47% disapprove

Country at large: 57% approve, 39% disapprove

What to do about climate change?

Republican Tea Party supporters: 39% global warming is unwarranted, 38% don’t know enough, 16% some action should be taken, 6% serious/needs immediate action

Non-Tea Republicans: 43% some action, 31% don’t know enough, 17% serious/immediate action, 7% unwarranted

Country at large: 31% serious/needs immediate action, 30% some action, 24% don’t know enough, 13% unwarranted

What you need to know about Thursday’s House leadership races

Today’s House GOP leadership races to watch are the contests between Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) for majority leader, and between Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN). The whip race is the more competitive one, with McCarthy seen as the big favorite over Labrador, who got into the contest relatively late. Here is how today’s race will go, per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Luke Russert:

  • The elections begin at 2:00 pm ET;
  • The winner needs a simple majority. Currently, the House has 233 Republicans, so a winning candidate needs at least 117 votes. They WILL NOT announce the final tally to the conference nor the press, that will stay secret.
  • If McCarthy is elected as majority leader (as expected), the conference will then vote to fill the position which McCarthy will have left vacant: majority whip
  • Because there are three candidates in the whip race, if during the first round of voting no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the LEAST amount of votes will be taken off the ballot, and they will vote again.

Faith & Freedom Coalition conference gets underway

The leadership races, however, aren’t the only GOP action in Washington. Ralph Reed’s three-day Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in begins today. This is your social conservative wing of the Republican Party. The speaking lineup:

  • Thursday (from noon to 1:30 pm ET): Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Friday (from 9:00 am to 1:30 pm ET): Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rick Santorum, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
  • Friday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Texas Lt. Gov. nominee Dan Patrick, and Mike Huckabee
  • Saturday (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm ET): Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

In a memo, pre-butting the confab, the DNC has released this memo: "And we know what they’re going to say. They’re going to attack the President with each breath... What we won’t hear is a single serious proposal to help grow the middle class. And that’s the Republican Party’s problem."

The latest on Iraq

Here are some quick notes about Iraq and President Obama’s meeting with congressional leaders yesterday. The meeting was a real consultation, with the president looking from feedback from the GOP and Democratic leaders. And as the president ponders his move, we’re told that any plan would have three elements: 1) a political solution (which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon); 2) a military component (but as we said yesterday, “shock and awe” airstrikes don’t appear likely, because there are no real feasible targets); and 3) bolstering Iraq’s security forces (which appear to have a LONG ways to go). Today’s focus here in DC appears to be on Malaki’s future; he’s not really responding to calls for political reform so the next step may be calls for his resignation as a negotiating tactic to get him to move on reform. And don't miss this: David Petraeus is arguing that the United States SHOULD NOT get militarily involved in Iraq. "David Petraeus, the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, has issued a stark warning to those advocating U.S. military intervention against ISIS militias bearing down on Baghdad," the Daily Beast writes. "The architect of the successful “surge” strategy that helped to quell the last great outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq almost a decade ago said there was a great risk that the U.S. would be seen as picking sides in a religious battle that has been waged for generations."

The Bushies are back. But is that a good thing for the GOP?

Lastly, as one of us wrote yesterday, the Bushies are back. With the news that a militant Islamic group has seized parts of Iraq, key members of former President George W. Bush’s national security team who served as architects of the 2003 war there have reappeared -- to either criticize the Obama administration or advocate for another round of intervention in the country. The folks in question: Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer. But is this a good thing for Republicans? Where President appears particularly on this subject is in regards to Syria (for not arming the moderate rebels earlier, and for allowing these militants to grab a foothold first in Syria). But if this turns into a political Obama vs. Bush debate, we’re not sure that Obama is as vulnerable. As our Jan. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll showed, 59% of the country said that Iraq war wasn’t worth it. We get why Cheney/Wolfowitz/Bremer are joining this debate -- it’s a way to rehabilitate their images and point the finger at Obama for any post-surge gains that were lost in Iraq. But they might not realize just how UNPOPULAR the war remains, even 11 years later.

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