Noemie Emery: Republicans may be weak, but conservatives are strong 

There's hope for the Democrats if you look hard enough, and some people are looking quite hard. To Jonathan Alter and Jonathan Cohn, President Obama is FDR redux, with a noble array of historical feats that have marked him for greatness.

The problem is that these feats have unsettled the public, which slapped him hard in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and can't seem to wait till November to do it again. To Jonathan Chait (if you still love Obama, you may be a "Jonathan"), this is all right, as while the president's ratings have dropped like a rock the Republicans' ratings have dropped even further, and people hate them even more.

The problem is that the poll that he cites measures Obama against only Republican members of Congress, and the approval ratings of Congress, according to Gallup, stand at 11 percent. Republican members, he says, oppose Obama's agenda, and since the public dislikes them, it means they support him.

By some measures, this might stand to reason. By the ones that prevail, it does not.

Chait should read more of his own magazine, where William Galston, the Brookings Institution scholar who is the adult voice at the magazine's Web site, explains why this isn't the case. In a post of July 28, citing a Pew poll of July 16, Galston explains that voters, while less Republican in name, have become more so in theory:

"[T]he ideological gap between the Democratic Party and the mean voter is about three times as large as the separation between that voter and the Republican Party," Galston tells us. "Startlingly, the electorate places itself a bit closer to the Tea Party movement (which is well to the right of the Republican Party), than to the Democratic Party" itself.

In the National Journal, Jonathan Rauch explains how this occurred: Under Obama, the country became more conservative and less Republican, as independents, unnerved by health care and debt, went from leaning Democratic to leaning Republican -- and many Republicans, irked by corruption and spending, broke off from their party and became independents themselves.

This group, which Rauch calls "debranded Republicans," tend to be libertarian, opposed to establishments (their own included), and anti-incumbent in tone. With unaligned independents -- many of whom went for Obama -- they formed the coalition against debt, spending, and the expansion of government that fueled the town halls and Tea Parties, came within inches of shutting down health care, gave Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell a landslide, gave New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie an upset, and gave the upset of all time to Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.

"Since 2006, the leading growth category has been conservative independents ... who look, sound, and vote much as Republicans do, but ... reject the label," as Rauch informs us. "Among registered voters, debranded Republicans have been the only growth category in the past few years."

While the Republican brand has been weakened, the conservative cause has grown even stronger: People haven't been leaving the Republican Party because it's been too conservative. They're leaving because it hasn't been right-wing enough.

That Republicans in Congress poll six points less than the Democrats, but in the generic ballot, they lead by 10 points. If generic Republicans poll badly, specific ones poll rather better, especially if they behave like the reformers the public now wants.

McDonnell has a 64 percent approval rating in Virginia. Brown is the most popular politician in blue Massachusetts. People may hate the "Republican brand," but they seem happy enough to vote for its candidates. And that may be more than enough.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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