One of the largest elephants in the GOP’s post-election room is the fate of Christian and other social conservatives. Party honchos can’t just wish this problem away — or, maybe they can.
There has been increasing hostility toward Christian involvement in politics, and the animus hasn’t been solely from the left. To be sure, Democrats have taken the lead, demonizing conservative Christians as science-challenged scolds who don’t care about women’s “reproductive rights,” but there is plenty of antipathy from certain elements within the Republican Party, as well.
Many establishment and some libertarian Republicans have long looked upon Christian conservatives with mild, condescending contempt. Party leaders from Barry Goldwater to Alan Simpson have openly derided Christians and lamented their negative influence on the party and on the overall political climate.
Even Ronald Reagan’s warm embrace of faith-based conservatives didn’t diminish the establishment’s disdain for them, which forcibly reared its head over the Todd Akin and Rick Mourdock kerfuffles. So swift and dramatic was their descent on Akin following his “forcible rape” embarrassment that one could almost infer they were lying in wait for just such an excuse to marginalize outspoken Christian conservatives.
Don’t get me wrong; I had serious doubts about Akin’s electability after the comments, too, but the establishment’s outrage wasn’t limited to Akin (or Mourdock) or even to his rape comment. There was palpable disgust from certain quarters on the right over what they perceived as the lunacy of making social issues a part of the equation at all.
If my analysis is incorrect, then why do we hear so much conflation of the Akin and Mourdock incidents with the question of the viability of social conservatism in general? If the outrage over these two was simply limited to their comments, then why are they increasingly cited as Exhibits A and B in the case for purging social conservatism from the Republican Party?
The GOP’s distaste for social conservatives this election cycle wasn’t confined to the Akin affair. If you’ll recall, Rick Santorum was the object of much scorn for his insistence on placing social issues front and center in his campaign. Some of the criticism was based on Santorum’s perceived demeanor and sanctimony, but no small amount of it would have occurred even if Santorum had been cheerfully optimistic in his approach to these issues.
In fairness, we are in extraordinary times, and it’s understandable that even some Reagan conservatives (those who subscribe to his three-legged stool of economic, foreign policy and social conservatism) became impatient with attempts to place social issues at the forefront. They were convinced that President Obama’s fiscal and economic nightmares alone would ensure a Republican victory and there was no need to make controversial social issues a drag on the ticket.
But that excuse will not mollify many social conservatives, who believe not only that social issues are the most important matters facing the nation today, but that at the root of our economic problems is an underlying disintegration of the nation’s moral fabric.
My purpose here, though, is not to debate the merits of the competing positions, but to point out that this growing intolerance for social issues by some in the GOP could result in a major schism, even a splintering of the party.
I am receiving emails and reading articles from Christian conservatives advocating a doubling down on social issues, some even suggesting that Christians redirect their focus away from politics and toward evangelism. I don’t believe this represents a major segment of Christian conservatives presently, but if efforts persist in scapegoating and diminishing social conservatives, more will become alienated.
Social issues are like blood in the water to Democrats and their liberal media accomplices, witnessed by their effort to ensnare GOP rising star Marco Rubio in a scandal over the age of the Earth. Even Rubio’s tempered response was uniformly maligned as evidence of his science-illiteracy and superstition. The right’s failure to come to his defense guarantees further and stronger attacks.
It is no small irony that those urging a remake of the GOP to bring it in line with changing demographics could unwittingly alienate Hispanics and other minority recruits who might be receptive to social conservatism.
It is also ironic and a testament to the wholesale ineffectiveness of the Republican Party that it is cowering from potentially winnable social issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, Obama’s assault on religious liberty and his phony war on women. Is there no issue on which the establishment will not cave in the end?
The Republican Party can choose to ostracize social conservatives and their issues, or try to purge them altogether from the party and its platform. But they better be careful what they wish for, because if they do, it will be the end of the party as we know it.