The good news for Republicans is that they have nearly unprecedented political power — both inside and outside of Washington — starting Friday.
The bad news is that America is already concerned they’ll go too far with it.
A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows Americans have warmed to the Republican Party, with its favorable rating having risen to 47 percent — the highest that’s been in years.
A big reason is that Republican-leaning independents are suddenly much happier with the party they favor but don’t call their own. Last year, less than half liked the Republican Party; today it’s 72 percent.
But there’s another key number that I think is worth pulling out as we move forward. And it’s this: Despite this rise in affection for the GOP, many more people see it as the more extreme of the two major American political parties.
While our polarized country is pretty evenly split on questions of which party empathizes better and which is more ethical or effective, there is no parity on the question of which party is more extreme. On that one, 58 percent say it’s the GOP, compared with just 33 percent for Democrats.
While the Republican Party has improved on other measures, on this one it has gotten worse. The 58 percent who say the GOP is the more extreme political party is higher than at any point since at least 2011. And the GOP was certainly accused plenty of extremism in the intervening years as it fought back against President Obama.
So why the shift? Part or maybe even all of this is undoubtedly President-elect Donald Trump, who on the campaign trail proposed some highly controversial polices involving Muslims, illegal immigrants, waterboarding and Russia. It remains unclear exactly how much of that he’ll follow up on as president, but it seems Americans have been paying attention and judging his party accordingly.
Combine this with how Republicans have the power to actually implement their agenda by virtue of their congressional majorities, and it’s not unreasonable to ask whether they risk going too far. Americans are already primed to believe the GOP is the more extreme party, and now Republicans have a chance to either prove them right or wrong.
For now, it doesn’t seem to have hampered their ability to win elections — or see their approval numbers climb — but being in charge means owning your outcomes, and Republicans will now do that.