For rank-and-file Republicans, our party’s mission is to advance freedom through limited government, strong national security, personal responsibility and traditional family values.

Although many Republicans generally adhere to all four of those elements, some do not; yet they remain allied because they are so strongly committed to many of those principles.  Despite inner-party squabbles, most Republicans rationally accept that we must work together to form an electoral majority.

Recently, some have grumbled that social conservatives — pro-lifers, opponents of same-sex marriage and the “Religious Right” — are to blame for the party’s recent setbacks and should be muzzled.

If the goal is winning elections, rather than purging membership rolls at the country club, throwing social conservatives under the bus is a catastrophically bad idea.

Roughly two-thirds of Republicans are pro-life; the balance are pro-choice.  However, overwhelming majorities in both camps weigh other factors before casting their vote.  According to Gallup, rigidly single-issue voters constitute just 22% of pro-life Republicans and 8% of pro-choicers.

Just four years ago, pollsters credited “values voters” with re-electing President Bush and expanding GOP majorities.  This year, moderate “maverick” John McCain enjoyed strong support from evangelicals on Election Day, despite ranking as the least favorite primary candidate of pro-life Republicans.

Meanwhile, Republican moderates like Colin Powell, William Weld and Lincoln Chaffee endorsed the Democrat.  Bob Schaffer experienced similar defections from social moderates who certainly would have disdained defectors had the shoe been on the other foot.

So why do some social moderates and libertarians find it so difficult to coexist with social conservatives?

Some believe social issues are a loser at ballot box, pointing to the 3-to-1 defeat of this year’s “personhood” amendment.  That’s a poor example because Amendment 48 split the pro-life community between those who hope to end abortion in one fell swoop and those who think an incremental approach is more practical.

Gallup says the public “is split nearly down the middle” on abortion, but measures like a ban on late-term abortion enjoy overwhelming support.

The other galvanizing social issue, preserving the traditional definition of marriage, is the most successful citizen initiative since term limits and enjoys even stronger support among blacks and Hispanics than among whites.

Another reason social issues cause a rift is that many in both camps are very principled in their beliefs.  Moderates and libertarians truly believe that abortion and marriage fall beyond the bounds of limited government.  Social conservatives reason that life is the foremost of our inalienable rights and that traditional marriage laws merely preserve what governments have codified for centuries.

Fiscal conservatives must recognize that social conservatives are often their strongest allies in the battle for low taxes and limited government.  In the last legislative session, pro-life Republicans scored an average 65% on the Colorado Union of Taxpayers scorecard, while pro-choice Republicans averaged 41%.

Most social conservatives don’t care what goes on in someone else’s bedroom but take to the ramparts when those matters move to a courthouse or seek taxpayer funding.  In most cases, conservatives didn’t seek out these battles until liberal activists and judges ignited them.

Social moderates who say they just want government to “stay out of it” will soon be tested.  Will they vociferously oppose restrictions on religious speech, taxpayer funding of abortion, and federal legislation to pre-empt state laws on abortion and marriage?

Standing on principle is commendable, but beating each other over the head with our differences is a fool’s sport.  In the coming months, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will remind us all too clearly that the principles which unite us are far greater than those that divide us.

We need that reminder because, in the words of Benjamin Franklin,  “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

7 Thoughts on “Social conservatives and the GOP”

  • No, no, no. You have it all wrong. The unholy marriage between “anti-abortion” and “less government interference” is completely incompatible.

    The sensible Republicans have turned to their co-dependent, mentally-ill, outmoded, pulpit pounding spouses and have said, “I’m sorry honey, this just isn’t working out anymore. I need to see other people. I know you do too,” and then filed for divorce in the voting booth.

    The Republicans who are entrepreneurs who want less barriers to innovation in business are naturally opposed to flat-earthers who think the earth is 6,000 years old.

    People who work hard for less frivolous government spending are not the people who think gay-marriage is something to campaign about.

    If your goal is a better economy in which Americans have greater opportunities, legislating a morality based on superstition and subjective interpretations of historically molested texts is not naturally part of your political agenda.

  • You have it wrong. As a former Republican turned Libertarian, I became embarrassed to say I was Republican because everyone thought I was pro-life, anti-freedom, anti-liberty.

    The main argument should be that Republicans stand for LESS government and more freedom. How does the anti-abortion stand fit these mandates? It is polar opposite! They do not fit in the Republican Party.

    As the neighboring comments by Ross Kaminsky who said, which is so true, “..when the socal conservatives distract from the mission of the Republicans (less government, less taxes) they become the arsonists burning the big tent down.”

  • You argue that republicans are being hurt by members clinging too steadfastly to principle, and then argue that social libertarians should back down while social conservatives should back down. You argue that there is room in the party for everyone, and then begin ruling out those who might believe in sensible foreign policy and personal liberty (note that I am anti-abortion).

    Libertarianism is about freedom; and freedom is a dynamic and pervasive thing, you can’t limit it to the economic sphere. Fiscal conservatism is the main thing that binds libertarians and conservatives, and social conservatives are increasing spenders; often voting for agricultural subsidies and costly military and security operations that libertarians see as misguided.

    I would argue that if the GOP wants to really be big tent it will get back to its fiscally conservative, constitutional roots while making social issues secondary. Everyone in the GOP can agree that government is too big, and that is a rallying point.

    As for libertarians, the best thing is to work together outside of the party system to gain electoral muscle, and bring both parties in toward more sanity with the power of the “liberty” swing vote.

  • I’m a pro-life, libertarian Republican. I don’t understand how defending innocent life became a social issue. Individuals are unimportant to Leftists, that’s understood, but libertarians espouse individual liberties, and the right to life is at the top of that list.

    If the Republican Party abandons its pro-life plank, I think it condemns itself to the ash heap of history. If neither the Republican nor the Libertarian Party are willing to defend innocent life, then I might as well join the Libertarian Party and fight for that issue within that party while enjoying far more like-minded company on fiscal restraint and individual liberty.

    I agree with much of what Brandon said, but I suspect I’m more hawkish than he is.

  • The definition of conservatism is limited government. That is not anarchy which is no government nor is it communism which is extreme government control.

    The key components of limited government are, for example, treasury (printing of money, etc.), defense, justice system, etc. The justice system has a responsible for protecting life through it’s branches of law enforcement. That’s where conservatism says government should step in –when killing is happening. Just like if someone tried to come in and murder you, or if you saw someone trying to murder someone else you would call the police and you would expect/demand the government to stop the murder/killing.

    Same concept with abortion. Abortion stops a beating human heart so sure expect the government to protect that person just like you’d expect to be protected. Fortunately for you, your mother did not want to kill you.

  • Sufimarie is misguided when she says that the “marriage between ‘anti-abortion’ and ‘less government interference’ is completely incompatible.” A human fetus is not a “choice,” it’s a life; and if there’s one thing libertarians and conservatives ought to have in common besides fiscal restraint, it’s the protection of life.

  • I have a suggestion for a way to revitalize the Republican Party. Stop with all the definitions and labels, and together as a constituency, demand that our elected leaders follow the United States Constitution. You want a set of principles to follow, start there. Make our opponents attack the constitution, instead of attacking an ideology.

    You want an example of how this might energize people, simply look at the Ron Paul campaign.

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