We're a week past the election, and some corners of the Republican Party are already set to write prescriptions for improving its electoral fortunes. David Frum writes
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.
So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That’s a future that leaves little room for Sarah Palin – but the only hope for a Republican recovery.
Likewise, Max Boot writes
One area where I do see some room for adjustment is on the issue of abortion. I am by no means suggesting that Republicans jettison their anti-abortion ideology, which would alienate the party’s base even if it might make the GOP more attractive on the coasts. What I am suggesting is that Republicans should not fear to nominate an otherwise attractive candidate who happens to be pro-choice. The insistence on abortion purity has cost the GOP during the past year. It was a major contributing factor to Rudy Giuliani’s crash and burn, since he has always been a pro-choicer, and a major factor, indirectly, in Mitt Romney’s downfall too, since he had to flip to the “pro-life” side before seeking the nomination, thus making him appear insincere. This issue also made it impossible for John McCain to pick either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his vice presidential candidate–both men who were better qualified for the job than Sarah Palin and likely would have proven to be bigger draws for the independent voters McCain needed to win.
I should pause here to mention that both Frum and Boot are very smart guys - and the Republican Party is lucky to have them. The first thing the Republicans should do is throw out the use of the term "RINO" (Republican In Name Only). There is no checklist that has to be completed before someone can be approved as a conservative or Republican. Republicans from New York City aren't always going to agree with Republicans from Nebraska. Instead of fighting to see who can cast the other side out of the party first, we should be looking towards ways to coexist together under the same label of Republican.
That said, I also think they are both wrong on this. Frum argues that we're losing the youth vote because of social issues. A 2007 New York Times/CBS/MTV poll
of youth ages 17-29, 62% believe abortion should either not be permitted, or should be made available under much stricter conditions. This is compared to 58% among all adults. Likewise, 54% of youth are against gay marriage (30% saying no legal recogntiion and 24% saying civil unions, but not legal marriage). This is by no means a harbinger of a new generation of fundamentalist Christians, but it does suggest that Republicans are losing the youth vote on other issues rather than social issues.
As for Boot's comments, it is not a surprise that he would have preferred Giuliani or Lieberman as a president or vice president. They are both very strong on foreign policy, Iraq, Afghanistan and other aspects of the war on terrorism - Boot's area of expertise and passion. It is hard to argue, however, that absence from the ticket was the fault of social conservatives. Giuliani lost in the primaries because he ran a terrible campaign - to the point where no one (right, left or center) was able to figure out why he adopted the strategy he did of putting so few resources into Iowa and, particularly, New Hampshire, and instead gambling everything on Florida. By the time the Florida primary came around, Giuliani was entirely out of the news.
As for Lieberman, I suspect a lot of Republicans, social conservatives included, would have been happy to see him as Secretary of Defense in a McCain administration. Likewise, they will likely hope Connecticut will continue sending him back to the Senate instead of a Ned Lamont-type, and should also welcome him with open arms to the Republican caucus if the Democrats punish him for not falling in line in support of The One. All of that, however, does not mean that he should be our vice presidential nominee, a "heartbeat away" (as they like to say) from being president and (ostensibly) leader of a party with which he agrees on very little else besides foreign policy.
Besides, a McCain-Lieberman ticket would have had an average age of 69, and would have attracted Max Boot, myself and probably 10 other people to each of their rallies. Finally, it remains unclear that independents would have voted for McCain-Lieberman while the other ticket continued to promise them unicorns and rainbows. It's false assumption that independent voters aren't necessarily any smarter, savvier or more analytical than partisan voters. When a candidate promises them the world, they are just as likely as any other voter to get suckered into voting for that candidate.
James Antle has a good piece
at The American Spectator on what seems to be a somewhat recurring tradition in the Republican Party: blaming any and all electoral misfortune on social conservatives.
This illustrates the folly of divining lasting political trends on the basis of a single election result, as well as the perils of declaring the death -- or dominance -- of social conservatism. Looking back at the postmortems of the 1992 election, it is easy to find political writers arguing that it was time to abort the pro-life movement and look toward socially liberal Northeastern governors like Christine Todd Whitman and Bill Weld (remember him?) for the Republican future. Coming just before the GOP congressional takeover of 1994, such analysis -- written not just by smart liberals like the New Republic's John Judis but also center-right commentators like Charles Krauthammer -- seems as overwrought as the social-conservative triumphalism just two years before the 2006 elections restored the Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.
In truth, there is very little evidence that the country has moved left on social issues since 2004, when values voters were said to decide the presidential election. Polls have been shifting somewhat more pro-life since the mid-1990s. Even leftward movement on same-sex marriage, which has gone from being unthinkable in the early '90s to a live issue today, seems to have stalled around late 2003. Republicans emphasized their social conservatism much more in 2004, when they won, than during their losing campaigns of 2006 and 2008.
Antle raises a good point at the end there. At what point in the election this year did social conservatism play anywhere near as much of a role as the 2004 election? Sarah Palin was just a sop to the right wing crazies, right, we know. As I mentioned earlier, even Palin rarely brought up the social issues during the campaign - it was the left and the media that depicted her as an abortion-banning, book-burning, contraception-outlawing, anti-gay fire breathing radical. Thanks to a general lack of pushback from the campaign over the first weekend after the announcement of her as the nominee, this caricature stuck. What is particularly noteworthy is that abortion played such a small role in the campaign despite the Democratic nominee being one of the most pro-abortion nominees ever on a major ticket.
That's not just a clever use of words. Obama isn't just pro-choice - when you want to cut funding to teen crisis pregnancy centers but use taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad, abortions at home, remove the restrictions of partial birth abortion and born alive infant protection, you are pro-abortion. Yet it never came up as an issue outside a couple 527 ads with sporadic coverage across the country. The closest Palin came throughout the rest of the campaign to any kind of social conservatism was one speech on abortion and the small-town boosterism. Small town populism is not the same thing as social conservative red-meat issues - take a look at the soaring attendance at megachurches in cities and suburbs. I live in a major metropolitan area that also happens to be one of the most conservative Catholic dioceses in the country, and there are about eight Catholic churches within five miles of me.
There is nothing, therefore, to show that social conservatism cost the Republicans this election. The fact that moral values was low on the list of the most important issue driving voters is also not a sign that the American people don't care about that issue anymore, or that it didn't still play a role in how they voted. With the economy tanking, the bottom falling out in the market, 401(k)s disappearing, home foreclosures skyrocketing, unemployment rising and prices increasing, very few people are going to tell an exit pollster that anything weighed on their minds more than the economy, be it Iraq, terrorism or moral values. That does not mean, however, that people consider moral values to be unimportant. For evidence of this, look at the gay marriage bans in Florida and Arizona, which passed by 12% in Arizona, 24% in Florida and even 3% in California. The measure passed in Arizona after a similar one failed there in 2006. It's difficult to contend that the people of Arizona are becoming less socially conservative.
The problem with the Republican Party and its various factions is not that foreign policy conservatives, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives can't co-exist. (If that were the case, I'd be in the middle of a very existential crisis right now, because I consider myself all three.) There is the impression among some, particularly fiscal conservatives that social conservatives are big spending, moral crusading nanny-staters, particularly on social programs and "wars on..." such as poverty, obesity, etc. To be fair, significant parts of "compassionate conservatism" gave them reason to think that, and some social conservatives like Mike Huckabee, though he has plenty of good attributes, also embodies some of this approach. In actuality, much of the social conservative wing doesn't think like this at all. Sure, they feel compelled by their faith to help the less fortunate, but not necessarily through the state. Huckabee did fairly well in the primaries, but that had as much to do with the lack of any other consistently pro-life candidate than it did agreement among social conservatives with the nanny-state aspects of Huckabees platform.
There is plenty of evidence disproving a general preference for big government among social conservatives. For those fiscal conservatives who like to talk about things like incentives, I would recommend one study, in which Daniel Chen, a law student at Harvard and formerly a fellow at the University of Chicago, finds that social conservatives are more likely to oppose a big spending welfare state. There is one twist: this is particularly the case in countries with strong separation of church and state, such as the United States.
Fiscal and social conservatives...tend to come hand in hand. Religious groups with greater within-group charitabe giving are more against the welfare state
[...]If church-state separation does not exist or the government were to become fundamentalist, the alliance would revere: social conservatives would become fiscal liberals
[...]As credit markets develop, elites gain access to alternative forms of social insurance and prefer less religious and government insurance. They legislate or judiciate increasing church-state separation in order to create a constituency for lower taxes, if religious voters exceed non-religious voters
In other words, in a country with church-state separation, churches have to look to their congregations for support. As such, a small state means marginal individuals look to the church for support. This provides the incentive for churches to support a small government. If you were to remove the church-state barrier, there would be less of an incentive for a church to oppose small government as the funding came pouring in from the state. Chen argues that this explains much of church history - as church-state separation became popular, emphasis on the social gospel (funded by the state, of course) went the way of the dinosaurs.
Now, the arguments that economics explains all human behavior always strike me as a bit cold and impersonal. Of course, church pastors are not all this cold and calculating. I suspect the social conservatives, more interested in human stories than talk of incentives, have nevertheless noticed that some of the most robust and effective charities are run by religious organizations, both at the individual parish level and on a national and international level. When the government tries to do the same things, their organizations eventually turn into bloated bureaucracies with multiple people performing the same job, large amounts of overhead, and billions of dollars go to waste.
It is true government has the resources and logistics required to deliver aid around the country and around the world, but local and nationalprivate charities (including religious ones) are often more streamlined, quicker to act and more efficient than local, state or federal government. Continued cooperation between government and private charity, particularly local organizations, would likely yield the more efficient outcomeon the ground. To the extent that government involves itself in social programs, disaster relief an d other activities, the federal government should devolve as much control over resources and decision-making authority to the state and local governments.
From a purely anecdotal standpoint, it's worth noting that the most socially conservative members of Congress are also the most fiscally conservative, according to the Club for Growth rankings. Below are the top 10 most fiscally conservative senators from the 2007 rankings, with their rankings from National Right to Life to the right of the Club for Growth rankings.
SC R DeMint, James 100% 100%
OK R Coburn, Tom 97% 100%
NC R Burr, Richard 97% 85%
AZ R Kyl, Jon 92% 100%
OK R Inhofe, James 91% 100%
NV R Ensign, John 90% 100%
TX R Cornyn, John 88% 100%
CO R Allard, Wayne 88% 100%
WY R Enzi, Michael 85% 100%
KY R McConnell, Mitch 84% 100%
It's also worth noting that social and fiscal conservatives have been shouting past each other in recent debates as well. Social conservatives feel like the people for whom they've played a major role in sending them to Washington have let them down. They argue that their national politicians have used them, playing on the abortion and gay marriae debates simply to get their votes. Meanwhile, the fiscal conservatives argue that social conservatives are a major drag on the ticket, beating the drum on abortion and gay marriage when there are far more important issues that the American people care about at stake.
What the social conservatives need to realize is that Bush and Republicans in Congress have actually done a great deal for them, from banning federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, to the ban on partial birth abortion, to the Bush administration's support for faith based initiatives, to the emphasis on abstinence education in the Africa AIDS initiatives, to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, just to name a few. Many social conservatives (at least from my very unscientific and anecdotal survey) have also come to realize the futility of hoping for a repeal of Roe v. Wade, particularly in the short term, and are looking for more pragmatic ways of meeting their political goals. Likewise, I think most social conservatives will come to realize just how much progress the Bush administration made in enacting the social conservative agenda, even if in increments, if Obama (as has been reported) plans to repeal the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, repeal the Mexico City law against using taxpayer money to fund abortions abroad and all the other tenets of the Freedom of Choice Act that Obama has said he would sign .
For their part, fiscal conservatives need to realize that social conservatism is not nearly the drag on the ticket as they like to think. As I mentioned, social issues played a negligible role in this election, and played a major role in electing Bush in 2004. Likewise, they need to realize that America is fundamentally closer to social conservatism than they are to social liberalism. They also need to realize that just because voters do not list moral values as the most important issue driving their vote, does not mean that moral issues do not play a role in their voting behavior. It also suggests that social conservatives are much more pragmatic than they are often given credit for. No matter how strong their positions may be on moral issues, they obviously recognized this year that the economy was the most important issue. That does not mean, however, that voters have to choose between the two - to say otherwise simply presents a false choice. There are a plethora of candidates out there who are both socially and fiscally conservative. Fortunately, they also happen to be more prevalent in the younger generations of leadership: Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawelenty, Paul Ryan, Mark Sanford, Mike Pence, John Shadegg, Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, and so forth.
I should also add, I am not opposed to pro-choice Republicans running in their districts, particularly if that is the only way to get a Republican from that district. When we elect a president, however, we should look more towards the candidates that unite the various factions of conservatism.