An eye-opening new report from the Democratic-aligned research organization Democracy Corps suggests that conservative Republicans, the majority of the GOP base, harbor a well-developed, consistent, peculiar worldview about President Obama and his “hidden agenda” for the country. Armed with “facts” from conservative media, these individuals, fully 2/3 of the Republican Party at this point according to Democracy Corps estimates, believe that the President has been installed by powerful interests to enact socialist policies, violate the Constitution and destroy America. Independents and even GOP-leaning moderates exhibit none of these characteristics, making life difficult for GOP leaders who must choose between support inside the party and support in the country.

The report, which you can access here, is a testament to what was described by Richard Hofstadter in 1964 as the paranoid style in American politics:

The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

The focus groups didn’t pick up an explicitly racial viewpoint from these individuals, though that potentially is part of the background (the same audiences did discuss Obama in the context of race during the Presidential campaign). However, it has moved on to a more tribal “hidden agenda” argument, which combines a persecution complex with a full embrace of misinformation from conservative media. They find media outlets like Fox News and right-wing talk radio “central to their identity,” according to Democracy Corps staffers on a conference call. In one notorious focus group quote, a woman said that she judges commercial establishments like restaurants based on whether they have CNN or Fox News playing on the television sets. They believe intensely in the bias of the “liberal media” and believe that their exposure to preferred media outlets gives them a greater sense of knowledge about what’s really happening in the country. Asked to name specific complaints about Obama, they frequently say “you’ll never know (about him) because so much is hidden,” citing the powerful interests pushing the President forward from obscurity. It’s a perfectly circular argument – they can justify any baseless charge by claiming it’s all secret and part of a giant conspiracy.

These GOP base voters are distinct from right-leaning independents, who want the President and the country to succeed and enact the change he discussed in the campaign, though they have doubts about specific policies. The right-wing base simply wants the President to fail at enacting an assumed agenda wildly out of step with reality.

This presents a problem for Republican leaders, as cited in today’s Wall Street Journal. While the Tea Party movement has energized the conservative base, it hasn’t made them at all positive about the GOP. They are entirely negative about Republicans, calling them “weak” and “old” and wanting MORE opposition from a party that has done practically nothing but that since Obama has been in office. A perfect example of this in action can be seen in the special election in upstate New York to replace Republican (now Army Secretary) John McHugh, where the Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava is seen as too “liberal” by activists. A Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, is drawing more fundraising dollars, and the split conservative vote is pushing Democrat Bill Owens into the lead. GOP rank and file Congressmembers and the RNC have been reluctant to defy their base and fund Scozzafava, who is basically out of money. Newt Gingrich endorsed Scozzafava today, but many other conservative groups and individuals have endorsed Hoffman:

only about 17 Republicans have even written checks to Scozzafava’s campaign, and the party’s conference chairman — Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) — has altogether steered clear of the tough race.

At issue for some unsure Republicans seems to be a fear of a possible political backlash. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tx.) knows that feeling all too well; after he announced his backing for Scozzafava, his conservative base attacked him viciously, specifically harping intimidate (sic) details of his personal life.

Democracy Corps believes these hardcore conservatives and their paranoid worldview will remain engaged in politics, and that the 2012 Presidential nominee for the GOP “would need to be part of that worldview.” This is despite the fact that even this base acknowledges that they are a minority in the country.

Again, you can find the report here.

…it is true that the reasonable reaction to this report should be “Did they also discover that water is wet”?

David Dayen

David Dayen