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Social conservatives say they deserve seat at table in retooled GOP
by NWP
November 22, 2012 at 1:07 AM

Social conservatives say they deserve seat at table in retooled GOP


Republicans' soul searching following the 2012 election could shortchange social conservatives, who say they're hardly to blame for the party's difficulties at the polls.

The snapshot analysis as for why Republican nominee Mitt Romney and a slew of downballot GOP candidates fell short on Nov. 6 has centered on changing demographics — an increasingly diverse electorate, but also softening views toward hot-button social issues.

Republicans have always likened their party to a three-legged stool, one leg representing economic conservatives, one representing national security conservatives, and one representing social conservatives — all acting in concert to support the party. And social conservatives are arguing that opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, among other issues, are as intrinsic to the Republican Party’s identity as ever.

In their reading of the election, Mitt Romney’s strict focus on economic issues and a refusal to engage President Barack Obama on social issues helped fuel his loss to the Democratic incumbent.

“If you have a party that says not to talk about social issues, it’s going to be awfully hard to convince an electorate of why we should celebrate life,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who played an influential role in that state’s caucuses earlier this year.

The blame game over Mitt Romney's defeat has spread throughout the Republican party – so what lessons can the conservative movement learn to reach a different outcome four years later? Author David Frum discusses.

To hear some conservative leaders tell their story, Romney erred in refusing to engage social issues forcefully enough. When the president endorsed same-sex marriage, Romney largely demurred; the GOP nominee largely left bread-and-butter social issues out of his stump speech, focusing almost exclusively on the economy — the top issue for voters.

"I think, clearly, the Republican Party didn’t win on the issue on which it invested a billion dollars," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony list, a women's anti-abortion group.

She argued, too, that it's difficult to blame the GOP's social conservatism for four losses among House Republicans who support abortion rights: Reps. Mary Bono Mack of California, Nan Hayworth of New York, Judy Biggert of Illinois, and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. "My point is that everyone lost. Republican candidates didn’t lose because of their pro-life positions," she said.

But at the same time, Obama's campaign and Democrats pounded away at Romney's pledge to do away with federal support for Planned Parenthood. And Republicans gave their opponents additional fodder when they tried to counter an Obama administration regulation requiring religious employers to offer coverage for contraception with a more sweeping proposal allowing most employers to refuse covering any form of birth control. Compounding matters were the controversial comments made about rape by Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.

Whitney Curtis / Getty Images

Senate candidate, Rep. Todd Akin , son, Wynn Akin, and his wife, Lulli Akin wait in line to vote Nov. 6, 2012 in Wildwood, Mo.

"We have to get out of people's lives, get out of people's bedrooms, and we have to be a national party or else we are going to lose," outgoing Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, said on CNN following the election.

Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, speaking Nov. 7 on MSNBC, called Akin and Mourdock’s shortcomings “very disappointing,” saying,  “I think that everybody knows that some of the comments that were made were wrong, and it cost us at the polls."

Moreover, national exit polls found that voters in 2012 favored allowing for abortion to be legal, 59 percent to 36 percent. Obama won supporters of abortion rights by 36 points and Romney won opponents of abortion right by 56 points.

Americans also narrowly favored same-sex marriage, 49 percent to 46 percent. Obama won proponents of gay and lesbian marriages by 48 points, and Romney won opponents of it by 49 points. If nothing else, those figures would seem to mark a sea change from the 2004 election, when 13 states overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage — a topic  which President George W. Bush used to motivate his supporters that cycle.

But to social conservatives, the challenge going forward is not a question of moderating; they argue that to rip out their leg from under the GOP would be to cripple the party politically. Rather, they argue the question is whether the party is able to find a more articulate messenger of social concerns.

Dannenfelser argued that Texas Sen.-elect Ted Cruz and Indiana Governor-elect Mike Pence (an outgoing congressman) are primed to lead social conservatives.

She and Vander Plaats, who could play an out-sized role in the still-very-distant 2016 Iowa caucuses, both also mentioned Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a leading voice on those issues.

Steve Pope / Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks on Nov. 17 in Altoona, Iowa.

To that end, in an interview with GQ magazine published Monday, Rubio argued that it was "unfair" to expect Republicans to stop voicing their opinions on social issues.

"There are a very significant number of Americans that feel very strongly about the issue of life, about the issue of marriage and are we saying that they should be silenced or not allowed to speak or voice their opinion?" he told the magazine. "There's a way to do that that is respectful and productive. There are things we'll always disagree on, but it doesn't mean we go to war over them or divide our country over them."

"I think Gov. Bobby Jindal is going to be a very compelling candidate in 2016, and he has some of that same conservative demeanor," Vander Plaats added of the Louisiana governor.

The Iowa conservative also said he thought that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom Vander Plaats supported in 2008 but declined to run in 2012, might consider running again in 2016.


  • PTmomma3
    November 22, 2012 at 4:35 AM
    I can only speak for myself, but I fully believe the social conservatives lost not only this election for the Republicans, but will lose them many more in the future since obviously, they still can't fathom how anyone could disagree with them. I might've even voted for Romney if the GOP hasn't turned him into a puppet that made it impossible for me to believe or respect.

    It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I think it will certainly divide the Republicans in half. It just seems odd to me that they don't realize (or refuse to) that Romney HAD to stick with economic issues because everyone else in the world knew the social ones would get him beat as our country becomes more accepting of things the GOP refuses to.
  • mikiemom
    November 22, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    oh for pete's sake these folks are blind as bats and their hearing sucks as well.

    No your overzealous social conservativeness is what is bringing down the GOP. Most of America could get on board with the economic conservatives if their civil liberties weren't threatened at every juncture by these nutjobs. Oh and stop saying the earth is only 6000 years old and that evolution is not real you just make yourselves  look like idiots.

  • Clairwil
    November 22, 2012 at 6:04 AM

    It takes real dexterity to shoot yourself in the foot, while your foot is in your mouth, and your head is up your ass.

    But they do seem to be managing it.

  • jhslove
    by jhslove
    November 22, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    IMO, the Republicans should completely eschew the Tea Party, which should form a third party. I think the primary reason that Romney lost this time around is that the Republicans were trying so hard to please (and not piss off) the Tea Party when the truth is that the TP's views do NOT represent moderate America, or even moderate Republicans. So you had Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock (oh yea, and  Joe Walsh) making completely ridiculous and over-the-top statements that torpedoed their chances, and Mitt Romney couldn't even stand up to them with any backbone. That alone completely undermined the image he was trying to cultivate of a strong leader.

    The Republicans should return to the principles that made it a viable party (and I say that as a Democrat, but one who would consider voting for a GOP candidate if I thought he had good ideas), and the Tea Party needs to stop being allowed to take over the mainstream GOP. Until that happens, the Republican Party will continue to be in crisis.

  • jaxTheMomm
    November 22, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    Well, I don't think Romney lost because he didn't pound on Obama regarding social issues.  Social conservatives were going to vote, if not FOR Romney, but AGAINST Obama.  I hardly imagine they changed their minds, unless they just didn't vote at all.

    I think the social conservatives are becoming a minority, perhaps? 

  • SuperChicken
    November 22, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    I think social conservatives are so convinced they are right that they cannot fathom that others see them as scary as shite.   I'm a fiscal conservative, but no way was I voting for the party of "rape is a gift from God if you're lucky enough to get pregnant."     

  • nysa76
    by nysa76
    November 22, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    Mitt Romney lost my vote because I, to this day, have no idea what he actually stands for.  You can't go back and forth all the time and expect full support from the people you intend to represent and lead.  I would back a candidate with strong, steady views (even if they don't match mine) well before one who can't or won't stay firm in their beliefs.

  • futureshock
    November 22, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    I cannot stand social conservatives, lol.

  • meriana
    by meriana
    November 22, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Quoting nysa76:

    Mitt Romney lost my vote because I, to this day, have no idea what he actually stands for.  You can't go back and forth all the time and expect full support from the people you intend to represent and lead.  I would back a candidate with strong, steady views (even if they don't match mine) well before one who can't or won't stay firm in their beliefs.

    This and that he apparently believes the extremely wealthy are being "picked on" because people expect them to (gasp) pay taxes, pay a living wage and provide a health care plan for their workers. His point of view seemed to be that they were very under appreciated and in need of help in areas of taxes, etc.

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