Already stung by the Romney campaign’s reaction to the Chick-fil-A battle, social conservatives are openly voicing doubts that their concerns will receive much more than lip service at the GOP convention.
From tea party leaders to battle-scarred veterans of the culture wars, conservatives are warning that the morale of the GOP base will suffer if social issues are shoved to the side of the stage in Tampa.
“I think social conservatives are puzzled as to Romney’s effort, or lack thereof, toward intensifying the turnout of social conservatives,” former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell told Newsmax on Tuesday.
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“It’s not as if social conservatives are not economic conservatives,” he added. “So if you think you can marginalize social conservatives and not impact economic conservatives, you’re foolish. Among a growing number of conservatives, their conservatism is indivisible.”
The biggest concern appears to be the roster of speakers for the convention, which is often viewed as a reflection of the priorities of the party and its nominee.
At first blush, the speaker’s schedule is filled with a broad range of conservatives, including moderate GOP Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, conservative firebrand Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
For evangelicals, the headliners to watch are former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In social conservative circles, their credentials are considered impeccable.
But several heartland conservatives tell Newsmax they are disappointed the party appears uncertain over how prominent a role to give former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. They’re also afraid their issues may be confined to less important time slots at the beginning of the week.
On Monday, Catholic league president Bill Donohue predicted that social conservatives such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will be kept off the stage during the coveted prime-time slots leading up to the actual nomination, thereby keeping family and life issues out of the spotlight.
“No one’s going to be allowed to speak at any great length on this issue,” Donahue predicted. “All we’re going to hear is that marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s flatulent.”
The RNC has yet to reveal when each headliner will speak. It has not announced its keynote speaker for the convention, and is expected to add more speakers to its agenda in coming days. But Donahue’s angst may be an indication that the Romney campaign has more work to do to address the concerns of conservatives.
Much of the social-conservative angst could be assuaged in a single stroke, if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the gold standard when it comes to rousing the party’s grass-roots base, were given a prominent role. Various sources, including Palin herself, have suggested an announcement could come any day.
On Monday, RNC chairman Reince Priebus told Greta Van Susteren on Fox news: “I think a lot of her and hope that she does speak.”
Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer made Palin’s significance crystal clear.
“There’s no one in the conservative base or Republican Party who excites and energizes the base like Sarah Palin,” she told Newsmax Tuesday. “There’s just no. No one.”
Added Kremer: “The party needs Sarah Palin and the tea party movement more than we need them. So for the Romney campaign to alienate Sarah Palin and the tea party movement I don’t think would be a very smart thing to do.”
Social conservatives have been voicing their concerns ever since Romney said the Chick-fil-A issue — which erupted over threats by big-city mayors to punish the fast-food chain for its executives’ opposition to gay marriage — is not going to be part of his campaign. Conservative radio talker Mark Levin took to the airwaves Monday to criticize the Romney campaign for not “standing up” for Chick-fil-A.
“We want a little bit more than crumbs,” Levin asserted on Monday’s show. “We want a conservative running mate and we want some conservatives who have real speaking time at prime time.”
Romney strategists have made it clear that they believe their best path to victory in November is to keep the focus on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy, which has suffered unemployment over 8 percent for a staggering 42 months in a row.
Former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a key Romney adviser, told Newsmax.TV on Tuesday that Romney has repeatedly articulated his support for a traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman.
“So the idea that Gov. Romney’s position on this is unclear is completely untrue,” said Healey. “He feels that no one in this country should be persecuted for their beliefs, no one should be persecuted for their speech, and the idea that some liberal mayors around this country think it’s appropriate that you should be able to discriminate against someone because of their beliefs is simply wrong.”
Blackwell said the GOP establishment and the Romney campaign “need to have Palin in the tent. There is not a principal player that should not have a place to participate."
He added: “There’s a big enough stage for all of them. And the reality is a couple of them might take a pass, but they’ll be gracious in doing it and Romney will have benefited from extending the invitation.”
Kremer, meanwhile, urged Team Romney to embrace the contributions that Palin and the grass-roots movement have made to the GOP since its nadir in 2008.
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“They need to understand the strength of this movement and the role we’ve played in shaping the political landscape and around the country,” Kremer said. “Frankly, if not for Sarah Palin and this movement we’d have no chance in hell of taking back the White House and the Senate in this election.
“Anybody who believes it’s because of the Republican Party, they’re in la-la land.”
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