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Cuts will turn off voters GOP is courting

By Maria Cardona, Special to CNN
updated 7:58 AM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: Looming cuts make Cantor's strategy to draw middle class to GOP laughable
  • She says forced budget cuts will hurt thousands of the very people GOP wants to attract
  • She says voters elected Obama to boost programs all threatened by cuts
  • Cardona: Obama approval rating high. Not so GOP's. If cuts happen, voters will blame GOP

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- Earlier this month, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, rolled out to much fanfare a new "branding effort" for the Republican Party, focused on broadening its appeal and helping the middle class.

It seemed hopeful at the time. Sadly, today it is laughable. We are days away from severe forced spending cuts that will do nothing but hurt the very people the GOP is trying to win over. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana recently declared that Republicans had to stop being "the stupid party" if they were ever going to put together the long-term winning coalition they needs to reach the White House in 2016. Sorry, governor: your party didn't listen.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

If the forced cuts, known as the sequester, go through, 14,000 teachers could get laid off -- affecting thousands of middle-class families, including many African-American and Latino families. Construction jobs, manufacturing jobs, first-responder jobs -- all well-paying middle-class jobs, will get cut.

Castellanos: On cuts, Washington throws a tantrum

Domestic violence programs will be slashed as $20 million gets cut from the Violence Against Women Act. Public safety in many ways will suffer. Food inspectors will get laid off. Up to 5,000 Border Patrol agents will be called from the border -- the mother of ironies for the Republicans who complain that the administration isn't doing enough on border security.

This is not what was supposed to happen. Sequestration was designed to be a bipartisan stink bomb so noxious to both parties that neither would allow it to happen. It was a release valve that allowed the parties to reach a deal on the debt limit in the summer of 2011 to avoid sending the nation into default, with the understanding that a broader agreement on the debt and deficit would be reached. If it wasn't, off went the bomb.

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What happened between then and now? President Barack Obama won reelection by voters who support his idea of dealing with the debt and deficit -- by asking everyone to put some skin in the game. He was seen as the protector of the middle class, and importantly, as the one who understood that government is not the enemy. That in fact, a lean, efficient, smart government, can help level the playing field and help all Americans and businesses get ahead.

Opinion: Cuts too deep? No, not deep enough

This argument was overwhelmingly supported by Latinos, African-Americans, women and young people and helped propel the president to a second term. Then came the fiscal-cliff debacle, where again, majorities of Americans sided with the president on how to fix it. Republicans acquiesced, and it seemed they knew they had to change their tune.

Forced budget cuts: GOP vs. Democrats
Sen. Graham on White House meeting

In his GOP rebranding speech, Cantor said: "We will advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation and job growth." That sounded smart enough. But in this current showdown du jour, Republicans have proven they are unserious. The party cannot see beyond its insistence on protecting the rich from paying even a single penny more, while welcoming draconian cuts to programs that hurt the middle class and the most vulnerable, especially in the areas of education, health care, innovation and job growth.

Zelizer: If spending is cut, GOP will get the blame

Instead of trying to find a way to avoid these steep cuts, and to keep faith with their newfound concern for the middle class, Republicans are doubling down on the "my way or the highway" mentality that put them in an electoral hole to begin with.

The party's deficit among these key voting groups will only get bigger if the GOP allows the spending cuts to go through. The risk to their standing among the American people is quite real. They are making a choice to protect loopholes for millionaires and their corporate jets while kicking 70,000 kids off critical Head Start programs -- and many of these kids come from low-income African American and Latino families. Thousands of middle-class American jobs are on the chopping block because the Republican Party did not learn the lesson of the election.

While there is political risk for everyone, including Obama, if these cuts happen, he enjoys something the GOP does not: the trust of the American people. Recent polling suggests up to half of Americans would blame Republicans. Less than a third would blame President Obama. Polls also show that an overwhelming 76% of voters, and 56% of Republicans, agree with the president that the solution to our fiscal woes should include a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

Obama's approval rating is at 55%, a three-year high. He is at 73% of support with Latinos, up 2 points from his 71% election victory -- not a promising trend for Republicans.

When you are in a hole, the best advice is to stop digging. The GOP seems to prefer to grab a bigger shovel.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona

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