According to the media and popular culture, the only thing that matters in the whole world these days is redefining marriage as quickly as possible.
As should be expected, GOP elites are falling into line. We had U.S. Senator Rob Portman explain that his principles in defense of traditional marriage were overturned by having a child who disagreed.
Yesterday, George Will said opposition to same-sex marriage is "quite literally" dying off.
And our beloved libertarian Charles Murray spoke at CPAC and endorsed redefining marriage, flirted with legalized abortion, and favorably quoted Karl Hess's line about abortion being homicide, sure, but justifiable homicide. He said that none of his children would even think of voting for a Republican:
Unless the G.O.P. drops what he called its “litmus tests” for candidates on these divisive social issues, Murray warned that conservatives were likely to alienate a large swath of the voting public, including his children, who might otherwise be attracted to the Party. He admitted, though, that, “I’m not known as an astute electoral analyst.”
I'm not an astute electoral analyst either. In fact, I'm pretty bad at it. Heck, I'm not even a Republican. But you all seem pretty savvy with this stuff. So let's discuss what everybody knows.
Obviously the GOP doesn't have a litmus test on either abortion or same-sex marriage, so the question is really about whether to pressure Republicans in general to be more supportive of killing unborn children and redefining marriage.
Now hardly seems like the right time to get cool with killing babies, even if it were to be decided less on principle than on politics. The pro-life cause is at least as much a winning one as a losing one. But as for redefining marriage to include same-sex couples and other groupings? If the Supreme Court upholds Vaughn Walker's decision, in which he calls most church bodies hate groups and says that the one thing that used to be universally essential to the definition of marriage -- sexual complementarity -- is now completely unimportant (or much worse!) for limiting it, would any of us be terribly surprised?
Religious and secular support for traditional marriage is already grounds for blacklisting. How can a political party expect to support it and survive? Should the GOP get with these amazing times and follow the culture?
All these smart people must be right, right?
Two stories give me pause. I know a Colorado man who used to be Democrat but became Republican decades ago. He ended up becoming a big-time party activist and was one of the community leaders who supported a particular state senator in Colorado. She recently came out for a civil unions bill that "dangerously imperils" religious charities (you can have same-sex marriage or religious liberty and we seem to think one is much more important than the other). Her reasoning for supporting the bill that hurts religious groups is that "Jesus" would want her to. This, on top of all the other disappointments he's faced in recent years, was enough for the man to tell me that he's completely done volunteering for the party. He said he felt "betrayed."
I go to church with another man, one of the most accomplished men I know. He's had tremendous success in the military and in business. He's served presidents at a high level and is frequently asked to run for high office himself. A seamless conservative, he discussed with me how poorly things have gone for social conservatives and was talking about how he'd decided to "retreat to the pew." He noted that once a battle is lost for social conservatives, it is hard to roll it back. He added a post script:
I do realize that my view - retreat to my pew - would be a catastrophe for the Republican party. Regardless all the happy talk about "renewal" and "the vital center" the party only wins at the national level when both wings - economic conservatives and social conservatives - are energized.
I certainly don't mean to sound cold when I say that I agree politics is not the best ground for the fight for the unborn, for the sanctity of marriage and for all the other marks of a virtuous society. These have always been difficult fights and they've always been fought in the hearts and minds of the people. By the time you're debating whether sexual complementarity (!) is an essential component for marriage, you've probably lost.
But just politically speaking, I can't think that going Portman/Murray/Will is as good for the GOP as these folks seem to think it will be.
I know many women became generally conservative primarily through their social conservatism. I'm sure many men have followed that path, too.
Or what about those folks who really only vote GOP not because they're generally conservative but because they have traditional values -- as this Twitter exchange shows:
@MichaelBD: Once the GOP follows Charles Murray's advice it frees people like me up to vote for Dems on foreign policy, basic competence.
@Joncoppage: Not to mention evangelicals concerned about the poor/social justice, increasingly environmental stewardship, etc
@MichaelBD: there may be a winning GOP coalition out there, but it isn't built on Bloomberg voters.
I like to refer to social conservatives as battered wives, but even battered wives eventually wake up and realize that leaving their man is preferable to what they're enduring. Well, that or they end up dead.
So, savvy analysts: what do you think are the implications of the party telling social cons -- perhaps the largest and most steady block they have -- to take a hike and get back to their pews?
Are we sure that a) the GOP can be sufficiently liberal enough to compete with honest-to-goodness liberals and b) it will bring in more people than it will lose?