Monday, March 02, 2015

The Great Republican Surrender: CPAC and the GOP's abandonment of social issues

Imagine you are a Republican living in the year 2027. CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, is having its national convention and straw poll for 2028 Republican presidential hopefuls. But markedly absent from speeches and discussion is any mention of free market principles. Few mentions of the problem of big government. Little or no rhetoric about over-burdensome taxation.

The Party is almost almost silent on economic issues.

If you think that sounds preposterous, then ask yourself whether, twelve years ago, you would have thought the Republicans would have almost entirely given up on values issues, which, along with free market economics and a strong national defense, was one of the three fundamental pillars of post-Reagan Republican policy.

If you bothered to watch the coverage of the 2015 CPAC convention you would have noticed a loud silence on what used to be one the Republican Party's major themes. Other than a few fleeting mentions of marriage and abortion, there was mention of nothing other other than economics and foreign policy.

Even when candidates were asked about where they stood on same-sex marriage, they punted—or sounded like they were. When Sean Hannity interviewed all the candidates who showed up for the event, only a few had even a well-thought out answer on the issue, but the eventual winner of the straw poll, Kentucky's Rand Paul, sounded as if he had heard the question for the first time, saying little about the federal courts declaring martial law on the issue and talking instead about the virtues of civil unions.

"I'm old-fashioned," he told Hannity, "I think marriage is between a man and a woman, but I'm also open in a sense that legally I don't think we should discriminate against people and that if people want to have a contract with another adult, there's no reason why the law should discriminate and prevent them from having benefits, or custody, or seeing people in the hospital, all that stuff can be arranged through contracts [between] adults."

This is the comment of someone who clearly is uncomfortable talking about the issue and all and really doesn't want to talk about it. Just imagine if someone ask him about free market economics. Would he say, "Well, you know, I'm a believer in free market economics, but I'm also open in the sense that there are circumstances in which the government needs to get involved in markets and I don't think we should be against that."

Not on your life.

In the same interview in which Paul declared himself a "constitutional conservative," he seemed to express little concern about the wholesale federal court takeover of state marriage policy in violation Supreme Court precedent.

The worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party is happening: Long charged by its Democratic detractors with not having a heart, Republicans are now doing their best to prove their point.

Say "Hello" to the Materialist Right: Republican politicians who have nothing to say about the most deeply-held convictions of Americans, who can no longer connect with their voters on issues of the heart, who cannot spare time in their analysis of the ills of big government to address the ills of the family.

The Republican Party's social policy agenda used to be marriage, the traditional family, and traditional values. In states like Kentucky this still survives, albeit in etiolated form. But the national party has dropped all three, and they have nothing to replace them with.

Am I saying Democrats are winning on social issues? I sure am. But the reason isn't because they have a better argument than the other side; the reason is that they bother to make an argument and the other side doesn't. It's easy to win a battle when the other side doesn't bother to show up.

The banner under which the Republicans are marching on social issues is a white flag.

It is a shallow cliché among the less politically astute that people vote their pocket books. The decisive refutations of this view are too long to catalog, but the would include at least the last two presidential elections. The dirty little secret in politics is that people don't really vote their pocket books: They vote their hearts, and the candidate who knows that and exploits it wins.

Barack Obama. Bill Clinton. Check it out.

The libertarians now controlling the Republican Party think they can win elections by doing a political heart bypass operation. Economic issues and criticisms of Democratic foreign policy are what they think will win them national elections. But it won't work. Ask Mitt Romney how this worked out for him.

If the choice is between a candidate who only appeals to the intellect of voters on the one hand, and one who appeals to their sentiments on the other, they will pick the second one every time.

The Republican Party has a huge constituency of cultural conservatives who are simply being ignored by Republican rhetoric. The current crop of candidates knows this and their strategy isn't hard to discern: They are willing to say the absolute minimum they can to keep these voters in the fold. And where else are they going to go anyway?

But the fact is they do have another place to go: Nowhere. That is, they can just sit out the election. This is what more than a few people did the last time around and it resulted in a second term for Obama, whose foreign policy missteps would, in any other world than the one Republicans have constructed for themselves, have been enough for him to be defeated.

There has not been a major party realignment in some time, but if you read history, you know that it does in fact happen periodically. If you look at polling data it is very clear that there is a huge plurality of voters that don't go along with the Elen Degenereses of the world. So substantial is it, in fact, that under any other circumstances it would be considered a situation to exploit. To Republicans, however, it has become an advantage to squander.

I have never been an advocate of a third party, but it is becoming increasingly clear that if Republicans don't recapture their cultural soul, they will unwittingly undermine their position as a viable party and produce, however unintentionally, a third party--one that probably couldn't win many elections, but could certainly decide them.


KyCobb said...

CPAC is always dominated by libertarians. The values voters summit in September is where you will get the red meat you crave, but by then the Court will have made ssm legal nationwide, taking the issue off the table. The issue the GOP seems to be mostly talking about now is "religious liberty", the right of a few bakers, florists and photographers to refuse to provide services for same sex marriages. Pretty small potatoes. The culture war has always been a bait and switch scheme by the GOP to get enough votes so that they can redistribute income to the 1%, who couldn't care less about your values. To imagine that the government can redirect a culture being created by the individual choices of hundreds of millions of Americans has always been absurd.

MommaLynn said...

Thinking out loud, so please bear with me...

This has been in the works for a long time. The Republican Party has been sectional in nature since its inception, so in order to survive, they must blame their voters/platform when they lose; forsake them if they win (sans a few accidental leaders along the way).

Well-intended or not (especially outside of ArISec8), government destroys everything it touches: life, liberty, property, marriage, education, etc. Intervention always yields the opposite of the ostensible intent b/c it is darn-near impossible for government to intervene on behalf of the irresponsible w/o punishing the responsible (Federalist 51).

E.g., Under the guise of creating better economic conditions for the little guy, government allowed for the [non-random] seizure of said little guy's property via Kelo, and give it to those with more resources and influence...

E.g., Under the guise of ending the number of deaths caused by abortion (an oxymoronic statement), government sanctioned the murder of unborn persons via Roe & its progeny, which collectively have been as efficacious as Dred Scott over 50 million persons later.

Squirrel! How ironic that the left takes the slave owner argument in the abortion issue ("that's my property and you can't tell me what to do to or with it"). The only difference is visual, and even then just weeks separate the ability to see the person being considered "property." End Excursus.

E.g., Under the guise of ending discrimination, government will institutionalize it via Affirmative Action, so that it lives in freaking perpetuity.

Perhaps you've already written about it Martin, but I would love to know your thoughts on this, b/c the marriage ruling will do the same thing: destroy marriage, which will lead to even more dysfunction (as if heterosexual couples haven't created enough...)

This forces me to consider that perhaps the first attack on marriage, was the first state-sanctioned marriage license. Clearly we've ceded power and authority over our marriages to the government, b/c they are now redefining them.

Just like they've redefined "life."

Just like they've redefined "equality."

Just like they've redefined "fair."

Just like they've redefined "neutrality."

"How strangely the tools tyrants pervert the plain meaning of words." ~Samuel Adams


Anonymous said...

Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Cindy McCain and all their choice. Talk amongst yourselves. Romney and his wife were pro choice until Mitt got the GOP nomination..can't speak for the Romney daughters because they only have sons.

Old Rebel said...


I have to admit you're right.

Republicans work for the mega-wealthy.

Thing is, though, so do the Democrats. After all, it was Bill Clinton who pushed NAFTA through, which transferred American jobs to the Third World for the benefit of big corporations.

And that notoriously right-wing rag New York Times agrees: "Income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades, but the trend appears to have accelerated during the Obama administration.”

Who speaks for the middle class these days? No one.

KyCobb said...

Obama has been hamstrung since 2011 by an obstructionist Congress. Before then he got the ACA passed which provides a huge benefit to millions of low and middle income Americans. Now we need to get to a full employment economy to create a tight labor market to force employers to provide workers raises.

Anonymous said...

By hamstrung KyCobb means that the American voters fired Democrats and sent Republicans to Congress. Damn those pesky voters. Dictatorship should be hard.

KyCobb said...


An unfortunate byproduct of gerrymandering and the regrettable lack of interest in mid-term elections. The President was elected as well, by more voters than elected Republicans to Congress.