Republicans Are Betting on a Losing Strategy in 2014

Even as 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their lifeline this weekend, Republican members of Congress were getting excited that their chances for 2014 look good.

They are seriously deluded.

True, Democrats and Republicans have switched positions in the polls since two months ago, when the government shutdown left the public disgusted and disillusioned with Congress in general and Republican House leadership in particular.

Relentless news about the troubled Obamacare rollout changed that dynamic. Where two months ago Democrats were up in generic polls 50/42, Republicans reversed the trend and climbed to 49/44.

That shift prompted a lot of talk about whether the GOP can manage to tread water and avoid mistakes until November, when they seek to expand their House majority and retake the Senate.

Interestingly, all the movement in the polls toward the Republican side came from men. Women have remained steadfastly more supportive of a generic Democratic candidate: 54 percent two months ago, and a nearly identical 53 percent today.

The Republicans basically have two electoral strategies: convincing fickle male voters that Obamacare is a disaster, and then holding their breath.

Neither is likely to carry them through November.

One problem is that perceptions of healthcare reform won't stay the same for the next 10 months. Problems with the Affordable Care Act website are already fixed, and Obamacare is going to look better and better as more people get health insurance who didn't have it before.

Still, there is hope for the Republicans that they don't look as bad as they did around the time of the shutdown.

John Boehner -- who looked as if he could lose his party's majority and his job as speaker after the tea party insurrection and the shutdown -- appears to have regained enough confidence to yell at rightwing groups who criticized the recent bipartisan budget deal.

In other words, the party looks like less of a mess, for now. As one Republican political strategist advised recently, if they don't screw up by shutting down the government again, or by pushing yet more controversial legislation, perhaps they can stay where they are in the polls, or even pick up critical seats.

However, this too is a vain hope. Congress in general was already getting low marks from the public thanks to House Republicans, and that was before they cut off long-term unemployment benefits. A recent CNN poll showed 3/4ths of the public believe we have a "do-nothing Congress," and 2/3rds call it the worst Congress ever.

Not doing anything is not popular with the public.

The fact that this Congress passed fewer than 60 bills, the lowest number since 1947, is not much of a record to run on.

But the biggest problem for the Republicans in the House is not just do-nothingism: it's the severe pain their party is inflicting on millions of Americans. That pain is beginning to hit hard as of right now.

The shutdown, the sequester, and now the cruel cancellation of unemployment benefits during Christmas hurts many of the same people the Republicans want to court.

As Bernie Sanders recently pointed out, the cuts in unemployment are not just bad for the unemployed: they are a blow to the whole economy.

Talk about bad politics.

Senator Harry Reid has said he will move for an extension of unemployment as a first order of business right after Congress comes back to town from the holiday recess. That will pose an interesting dilemma for Republicans.

Sticking to their austerity plan, Republicans will insist that an extension must be paid for with other cuts, but it's unlikely that they would consider closing tax loopholes for the rich.

Americans United For Change painted a grim picture of the party's 2014 chances with its hard-hitting "Bad Santa" advertisement recently, which points out that the budget bill did not touch tax loopholes for the top 1 percent, even as Congress kicked the unemployed to the curb.

This kind of politics cannot carry the day, no matter how long the Republicans hold their breath.
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Photo: "Surviving adversity and managing risk for big business," via Shutterstock.