Social Conservatives: GOP 'Doomed' Without Values Voters

Image: Social Conservatives: GOP 'Doomed' Without Values Voters Pro-life activists demonstrate at the Supreme Court during the annual "March for Life" on Jan. 25, 2013.

Wednesday, 30 Oct 2013 01:02 PM

By David A. Patten

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The Grand Old Party is "doomed" unless it reincorporates social-conservative values such as opposition to abortion and support for traditional marriage into its messages, according to a new analysis of last year's election results by the conservative advocacy group American Principles in Action (APIA).

The report, entitled "Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012," challenges the RNC election postmortem that has driven proposals for GOP reforms.

The RNC analysis was titled the "Growth and Opportunity Project." It urged Republican candidates to soften their social-conservative views while also reaching out to minorities.

"When it comes to social issues," it stated, "the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming." Otherwise, it warned, women and young people would not support Republican candidates.

The APIA report describes that approach as "the truce model," and warned it is destined to fail at the ballot box.

APIA President Frank Cannon, a long-time campaign adviser and co-author of the new report, discussed its findings in a media conference call Tuesday afternoon. Also on the call were traditional-marriage and right-to-life proponent Maggie Gallagher and conservative Rich Danker, both of whom also co-wrote the APIA report.

Gallagher warned that Democrats are leveraging their power in the mainstream media to shame establishment Republicans into remaining silent on important social conservative issues, including family, marriage, and the right to life.

"This is a losing strategy," says Gallagher. "We argue in the report that the winning strategy is to stop playing defense and go on offense, to make the Democrats pay for their abortion extremism, and to define what it means to be pro-life on our strongest ground, not on our weakest ground."

The report identifies three shortcomings of downplaying social issues, which social conservatives call the "truce strategy" or "truce model." This is a reference to the controversial 2011 statement by then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' statement that the next president "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues" in order to address the economy.

The report criticizes the "truce model," saying it discourages the GOP base and fails to capitalize on the unpopular pro-abortion stances taken by some Democratic candidates. But the biggest problem, it states, is this view "scapegoats" social issues and fails to address "the biggest problem we face."

"The hardest lesson for conservative and GOP elites to digest from 2012 is this: [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney's economic message did not connect with middle-class voters' present economic pain and suffering," the report declares.

Cannon, Gallagher, and Danker are urging Republicans to adopt an "integrated model" that incorporates social conservative values, while also honing its message on the jobs and the economy to appeal more to middle-class voters and families.

"Sometimes when people say 'If we just kick the social issues out, we'll have a winning message,'" says Gallagher. "I'm like, 'Well, do you want to go back to the party of Gerald Ford?' I lived through that era before the Reagan Revolution created this three-legged stool, and I don’t understand the theory where cutting yourself off from your grass-roots is a good strategy for victory."

The three activists say an unholy alliance has emerged between high-profile political consultants, well-heeled party donors, and what they describe as the party's "management wing." They say many of the party's problems stem from a "disconnect" between the "party elites" and its voter base.

At times, the report appears to echo the view frequently articulated by tea-party leaders that the Republican Party has been captured by a pragmatic faction that is no longer aligned with a significant element of the party base.

"I don't think there's a huge divide between the tea party and social conservatives," says Gallagher. "I think the divide is between the grass-roots and the consulting class — and some of the moneyed interests — and their theories of what it takes to build a winning coalition."

Cannon addressed recent suggestions that a "civil war" is underway between grass-roots activists and establishment Republicans over who will control the party.

"I wouldn't call it a civil war," says Cannon. "But there is an absolute tension between the financial wing of the party, which is who the consultants listen to because they are the ones they receive their money from, and the grass-roots of the party. I do believe there is a huge discrepancy. Until the grass-roots of the party are represented more in the strategy, we're not going to be able to put together the coalitions that win."

To win future elections, Gallagher says, GOP leaders should "stop scapegoating the social issues, use them as if we thought they mattered, and bring in new Reagan Democrats just like the old Reagan Democrats."

She added that Republicans must find a way to persuade middle-class voters that "we’re going to be helping their families economically if we want to win the election."

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