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Republican strategists may need to face up to an inconvenient truth: conservative social positions are no longer a thorn in the GOP’s side. We can win with them. Without them, it’s tough to say.
For some, this is a hard pill to swallow. Many Republicans are quite attached to a progressive social narrative, and strategic considerations have long been the justification for telling religious conservatives that they’re on the wrong side of history. Whether that’s true still remains to be seen. This most recent election, however, showed us Democrats desperately trying to gin up some resentment over social issues, and losing. Meanwhile we saw pro-life, pro-traditional marriage conservatives winning across the map, sometimes in fairly blue states.
While it would be wrong to see this election as a referendum on social issues, it’d be equally wrong to dismiss these issues as trivial or unrelated to the outcome. Actually, the social issues are reasonably well-aligned with the broader narrative of Democratic failure. Liberals got too much power, overplayed their hand, alienated much of the public, and were punished. As I explained at The Federalist earlier this week, our job now is to be reasonable, and make liberals pay for their excesses.
Hillary Clinton isn’t going to be able to rein in the wilder progressive factions as they crusade for gender eradication, polyamory, abortion parties and the like. We can profit from that in 2016 by presenting ourselves as responsible and reasonable and asking for explanations of the crazier liberal behavior. The goal here is not to put social issues front and center of the GOP’s platform, but rather to reinforce our aura of reasonableness. Also, if we play our cards right, we may put Democrats in the position of running for cover whenever social questions arise. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I realize of course that many will see marriage as the continuing weak point for Republicans. Hasn’t America basically embraced same-sex marriage, leaving us vulnerable to being tarred as bigoted reactionaries if we don’t comply.
I say more about this in my Federalist piece, but the short answer is that the issue has lost its thunder. Middle-of-road voters don’t seem to care that much about it anymore and — interestingly — the youngest new voters are trending Republican, even though most are fine with same-sex marriage. I think the main explanation is that they are products of their time in terms of their social mores, but so much so that they don’t see marriage as a major voting issue, and don’t seem inclined to punish the GOP for putting forward more traditional-marriage-supporting candidates. Second, many people are bothered by the grossly undemocratic means by which marriage redefinition is being imposed on the country at large. That fits nicely with the broader narrative of “Democratic overreach,” and offers some nice talking points for politicians in 2016, insofar as the issue needs to be discussed.
Third, I’m confident that we haven’t seen the end of the marriage issue. If you’ve paid attention to progressive social change, you know that these central issues never really die. They shift and present themselves again in different forms, generally recycling the same fundamental disagreements in slightly different clothing. Right now we’re moving into a relative lull on the marriage debate, and if we can allow marriage to slide to the back burner, that might be just as well for the moment. But it will flare up again, however — probably within the next decade or two — and it’s good to give at least a little thought to the future.
The precise timing and contours of the next confrontation are hard to predict from the present vantage point. Clearly, one relevant question concerns the Supreme Court, which may decide to “settle” the matter for us, in much the way it once “settled” the abortion issue. That might actually be a gift to the GOP, because court victories can sometimes — as in the case of Roe v Wade — give cultural momentum to the losers.
In any case, the worst thing we can do at this juncture is sacrifice our moral authority by making a formal act of submission to the overlords of Progressivism, at precisely the time when the voters have started to lose interest in the whole business. Voters mostly think it’s over, so we can allow it to slip lower on their priority lists for the next few years. When the next round comes (and it will), we’ll have a stronger hand if we have retained some semblance of principle. It could also help to have been obviously wronged by an overactive judiciary and corrupt, culturally imperialistic progressives.
Meanwhile, white Evangelicals have been turning out in strong numbers for the GOP. Let’s keep that party going.Published in