The consensus in Washington that last week’s appropriations deal represented a victory for conservatives was not shared very widely on the Right. Polls showed self-identified Republicans significantly less likely to approve of the deal than Democrats or indies. At the activist/elite level, the negative reaction was much stronger. Fits were pitched over the surrender of policy “riders,” notably by RedState’s Erick Erickson, who accused congressional GOPers of, quite literally, selling out “murdered children.” Rush Limbaugh even claimed that media assessments of the deal as a Republican win represented some sort of devious liberal trick.
Part of what’s going on here, of course, is that conservative activists want to maintain their leverage over Republican pols going forward. Many also don’t much appreciate all the bouquets being tossed at John Boehner for how well he “managed” them during the negotiations. Still others, especially on the Christian Right, really did care more about the policy riders than the overall level of budget cuts. A few, including probable presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, have adopted the Ahab Posture, making repeal of “ObamaCare” the condition for their vote on any budget or appropriations measure.
In any event, wingnut opinion is virtually unanimous in demanding a harder line in the FY 2012 budget debate and the associated debt limit vote, which many opinion-leaders (most famously Sen. Marco Rubio) are already promising to reject unless Democrats surrender definitively on every major issue, including “entitlement reform.” You can also expect a lot of conservative pressure to be applied to Republican senators this week to minimize support for the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group that is working on a budget deal (loosely based on the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission report) that includes revenue measures, and may wind up working in tandem with the White House.
Over on the presidential campaign trail, things continue to heat up. Many conservatives took advantage of Mitt Romney’s announcement of a campaign exploratory committee to mock him for his stubborn continued support for the Massachusetts Health Plan, which, as it happens, was enacted five years ago this week. Puzzlement over the Mittster’s strategy for winning the nomination is spreading as well, particularly since it’s beginning to appear he may run away from serious campaigns in South Carolina as well as Iowa.
But the big news on the presidential front has been the startling evidence of significant support for possible candidate Donald Trump, the mythical tycoon and reality show host. A new CNN poll, in fact, shows The Donald running even with Mike Huckabee for the national lead among Republicans at 17 percent. The big question is whether such showings simply reflect name identification (Trump is, after all, nothing if not a celebrity), or perhaps a reaction to his recent high-profile expression of neo-Birther sentiments.
A PPP poll of New Hampshire, showing Trump running a relatively close second to Mitt Romney in that state, indicates the latter could be a factor: Trump actually leads among those denying Obama was born in the U.S. All these polls also show Trump having unusually high unfavorable numbers as well, so he’s hardly a threat to actually win the nomination. Still, his sudden emergence may indicate a craving in the GOP electorate for candidates with greater star quality, and perhaps more hard-core conservative views, though Michele Bachmann is certainly doing everything possible to supply both qualities. The possibility that Trump could actually run (and his bizarre interview with Christian Right journalist David Brody shows he’s trying to check off the interest-group boxes) should remain unsettling to other candidates; aside from his alleged wealth, he would be a nightmare in debates.
While Trump seems to be doing better than had been imagined among the conservative rank-and-file, the big winner during the last week in the Invisible Primary of insiders was Tim Pawlenty, with the announcement that former Republican Governors Association executive director Nick Ayers would run his campaign. Ayers, a Georgia-based wonder-boy (he’s only 28), was given a lot of credit for the GOP’s big gubernatorial gains in 2010. But a lot of the buzz about his T-Paw gig stems from the earlier assumption of many pols that he’d be involved in a different campaign: that of Haley Barbour, who was Ayers’ boss at RGA during the 2010 cycle. If nothing else, Pawlenty now has something important that he has lacked: a prominent backer from the South, where he will need to show strength if he winds up being the “consensus conservative” alternative to Romney to his left and perhaps an actual southerner to his right.