The Washington Post manged to bury this at the bottom of their story, but MSNBC happened to notice this little data nugget out of its latest national
April 27, 2009

The Washington Post manged to bury this at the bottom of their story, but MSNBC happened to notice this little data nugget out of its latest national poll:

There is a warning sign for the GOP in the new poll: 21 percent of those surveyed said they identify as Republicans, the fewest to do so in a Post-ABC poll in more than 25 years. Last fall, Democrats outnumbered Republicans at the polls by the biggest margin in network exit polls going back to the 1982 midterms.

David Shuster and Richard Wolffe discussed it first, then Norah O'Donnell got the Republican perspective from Michelle Bernard.

Shuster and Wolffe note that the exodus has not benefited Democrats, but rather has swollen the ranks of Independents, which is fairly normal. However, Wolffe offers this appraisal:

Wolffe: So people are not self-identifying as Republicans. And for the party to rebuild, that means they've got speak to people beyond the base, the people who may have been at those teabag parties. They've got to reach the people who identify themselves now as Independents. They don't like partisan politics.

I think he's got this completely backwards. Wasn't Wolffe listening to the people at the tea parties? Doesn't he ever watch Glenn Beck? Those people are the new Independents. They're leaving the Republican Party because it isn't far enough to the right.

Bernard, in contrast, actually makes a good deal of sense:

Bernard: Here's the question: Is the Republican Party going to be a Big Tent party, or is it going to be reduced to a geographic area that is made up primarily of evangelical Christians? That's something that the party has to determine. If you want to win elections, the Republican Party as it is today is going to be a party that is very limited and cannot reach national elections until they can get the message of free markets and limited government out. They need to have a new message and find a way to appeal to African Americans, Hispanics, and young voters.

There's that portion of the party, though, that, you know, they don't care. There is a litmus test, and they are not going to change the coalition the way that it stands. And, you know, they've got to find a leader.

In reality, the seeming exodus of the Glenn Beck-style wingnut element from the GOP is a terrific opportunity for smart, sensible Republicans like Bernard. It means they might actually have a chance to really change the Republican Party back into something resembling a sane and serious political party and not an Asylum For the Criminally Insane.

You have to wish them luck. But I'm not holding my breath, either.

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