Don’t blame social issues for Romney loss
Republicans’ post-election loss ritual of scapegoating and finger pointing has begun, and, as is almost always the case, conservatism, and in particular values issues, is getting the bulk of the blame.
Republican elites will soon join liberal commentators in declaring that the party must moderate on social issues or risk consigning itself to permanent minority status. But while the GOP would benefit from a period of reflection and self-examination, and while the party does need to adjust how it communicates with voters on social issues, its core values cannot change.
It would be difficult to argue that November 6th was a good day for those of us who support traditional marriage. The voters of four states voted for same-sex marriage. But that doesn’t mean the GOP should abandon its support of normal marriage.
In a national exit poll of 800 voters conducted on my behalf by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend, 8 percent of respondents said that the definition of marriage was their top issue, while another 20 percent called it one of their three top issues.
Interestingly, 44 percent of voters said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports same-sex marriage (including 32 percent who said they would be much less likely), while 40 percent said they’d be more likely (including 21 percent who said they would be much more likely).
Other exit polls showed voters essentially tied on the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal. That corresponds with most opinion polls. And remember, 38 states have voted to ban same-sex marriage, most via constitutional amendment, most recently in North Carolina in 2012. The truth is, America is still divided almost evenly on this question.
Then there’s abortion. That the issue motivates voters continues to baffle professional pundits. In our poll, when asked how important abortion was to their vote, 13 percent of respondents said it was their top issue, while another 24 percent listed it as one of their top three issues.
The media consensus seems to be that the election was a vindication of the left’s attacks on Republicans’ so-called “war on women.” But the election wasn’t a repudiation of the pro-life position, but rather a repudiation of conservatives who talk about abortion ineptly.
The view that all human life is sacred wasn’t what made headlines during the campaign. It was stupid comments about “legitimate rape” and offensive references to a young abortion activist as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
The relevant issues—forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions; Obamacare’s coercion of religious institutions into paying for abortion drugs—could have been political winners for Romney and other Republicans, if they hadn’t allowed the Democrats to frame any attempt to limit abortion as part of a broader “war on women.” But Romney chose to let the attacks go unanswered.
In a bit of good news for pro-lifers, a referendum to legalize assisted suicide lost in Massachusetts, and an abortion parental notification law passed overwhelmingly in Montana.
Even on the broader question of values, the conservative position prevailed. A clear majority, 58 percent, of exit poll voters said that the “decline of American morality and values” was a challenge for future generations. In an ABC exit poll, Romney beat Obama by 13 points among voters who prioritized a candidate who “shares my values.”
The upshot is that values issues still matter, and that they are a net positive for conservative candidates who can talk about them with precision and compassion.
Historically, Republican candidates win when they embrace conservative positions on social issues. And it could help them with the group of voters everyone believes the GOP needs to attract: Hispanics.
Hispanics make up growing share of the electorate (10 percent this year), and they vote overwhelming and increasingly for Democrats. But they are also more religious and more socially conservative than most Democrats. They should be a natural fit for the Republican Party.
An under-examined reason why Romney and other Republican candidates lost had to do with the three million white evangelical voters who cast a ballot in 2008 but didn’t vote this year. In an election decided by fewer than three million votes, they would have been pivotal. And I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t stay home because of Mitt Romney wasn’t liberal enough on social issues.
Looking ahead, the Republican Party’s strengths are its conservative House and its roster of up and coming conservative party leaders. Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. Bob McDonnell, to name a few, are all across-the-board conservatives.
America remains a sharply divided nation. Obama received only 50 percent of the vote. Republicans retained control of the House and now control 30 governorships, the most since 2000. The Republican Party doesn’t need candidates who will ignore values issues; they need candidates who can present their positions on those issues to voters in a reasonable, compassionate and straightforward way.