Republicans Must Repudiate Santorum and Social Conservatism

I wrote last year that Ron Paul had to repudiate Lew Rockwell if he was going to get anywhere. Last I checked, he didn’t follow my advice (unless that one missed call from an unknown number was his personal cell and he was trying to get in touch with me), though it would be the height of arrogance for me to suggest that it was that particular bit which led to his defeat in Iowa.

But it might be less arrogant to suggest that, if the Republican Party doesn’t follow what I’m about to say, they will throw the 2012 election and perhaps relegate themselves to a non-party as early as 2024.

In a nutshell, the Republican Party must repudiate Rick Santorum, refuse to grant him the nomination, and simultaneously expel the social conservatives from the party and embrace true limited government, free market, essentially libertarian principles.

Let’s look at the facts. According to Gallup, 53% of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal, up from 44% in 2010 and 40% in 2009, a clear trend. They also report that 64% believe all relations between consenting gays and lesbians should be legal (up from 55% in 2008 and 49% in 2006) 50% want marijuana legalized (up from 46% in 2010 and 36% in 2006), support for the dealth penalty is falling, and while the overall majority of America is religious (or at least claims to be), that number is gradually falling as well. The only thing on which I can really give the conservatives is abortion, where the support lines for each side have been zig-zagging all over the place, and where—unlike with creationism or bans against same-sex marriage—the pro-life argument is at least credible and warrants an intelligent, reasonable, and respectful conversation.

But on all other issues, social conservatism is going the way of the dodo. It is being principally championed by an increasingly small (yet definitely influential) demographic of older whites, who have kept onto their increasingly antiquated views of society throughout the decades. Some of the shift is simple biology: they’re dying. Another reason is because social views are dramatically changing: just knowing a gay or lesbian person makes you think twice about banning same-sex marriage. (Whouda thunk it?)

If the GOP decides to go down the road that everyone else is not taking, where do you expect it, an organization that depends on the public for support, will end up? Although our democracy is heavily managed (see: Mandering, Gary), it still functions somewhat like a market: the party offers a product, and if the voters don’t buy it, the party loses market share. The amount of buyers of social conservatism is beginning to erode, and will likely continue to erode dramatically in the years ahead. Any organization, whether a company or a party, that stakes its success on trying to sell something no one wants will not be successful very long.

Of course, many will retort that, “Well, this is a conservative country! Haven’t you seen the polls on that issue?” And they would be correct: 40% of Americans, a plurality, identify as conservative. But then this just gets down to what conservatism actually means. Moreso than left-wing nanny state welfare liberalism, American conservatism has dozens of different strains and types, a smorgasboard of views from the end state to just the means of getting anywhere, from moderate to out and out moonbattery.

Just taking a gander at Wikipedia, you find that there is “social conservatism” (with which, for ease’s sake, lump together with “cultural” and “religious conservatism,” though I will accept that there may be differences between them), “national security” conservatism, paleoconservatism, neoconservatism, limited government conservatism, traditionalist conservatism, national conservatism, states’ rights conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and libertarian conservatism—and that’s just one site. All of these overlap and blur with one another, leading to fuzzy edges, but its clear that conservatism is far from monolithic. So where do these 40% of Americans give their support?

Although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of polling on that, specifically, when asked what the main troubles with the country are, the economy routinely tops people’s concerns. This leads me to conclude (perhaps mistakenly) that most conservatives are fiscal conservatives (or maybe even libertarian conservatives, but let’s not get carried away here). To them, abortion, gay marriage, and drugs are not the overriding concerns of the day—they may be important, but they’re secondary. The real concerns are deficit spending, government debt, tax policy, and the effect of crushing regulation and government spending on the economy and the job market.

Here, Republicans can win. If they play true to their rhetoric and scrap the crony capitalism they orchestrated during the Bush Administration (and, as I’ve said before, made a public and clean break with that era), they can win big. People are very concerned about an overreaching federal government and want jobs and prosperity. They care about economic freedom more than the “social fabric.” This stretches beyond parties; there are even some liberals concerned about the size of government and the massive amount of spending. By being true to cutting spending, conservatives would also have to face that it would involve serious entitlement reform, some defense cuts, and very likely the elimination of agricultural and corporate subsidies.

While Santorum offers some of this fiscal conservatism, there isn’t that much. He’s protectionist, does not seem to really want to get rid of subsidies, and again, he places the majority of his effort on social issues: gay marriage, the drug war, and now contraception, things that the majority of Americans either don’t care as much about or actively disagree with him on. If Santorum’s brand of conservatism becomes the standard bearer in the 2012 elections, the Republican Party will lose—and if it continues to endorse such ideology, it will effectively force itself out of the electoral marketplace.

Of course, there may be some benefit to it, as Doug Mataconis says:

There are people here at CPAC, for example, who think that the way to win the election in November is to emphasize a Santorum-like position on abortion and hammer the President with it for months on end up through the General Election. One can call these people detached from reality, and for the most part many of them do seem to have no real conception of how politics works in the United States or how you win elections, but perhaps the only way to convince people like this of the fact that reality is, in fact, real is to let them have what they want. Put that hard-core social conservative on the ballot and let them run their campaign based on those issues even though poll after poll shows them to be out of touch with the mainstream of the electorate. At the very least, maybe it would be what’s needed to finally start reconstructing the Republican coalition that put Ronald Reagan into office 30 years ago rather than letting the GOP continue to drift down the road.

I don’t buy it, honestly: they will come up with any number of theories as to why their candidate didn’t win, from mushy moderates to Obama rigging the election (which could possibly happen, but I put the probability of that at around 0.1%.)

The 2012 election will be an insightful one, and although it probably won’t be an aligning election in the traditional sense of the phrase, it will definitely show us the future of the Republican Party: as either a strong political organization advocating for less government in all areas and a sensible fiscal policy, or a weak, fringe party focusing on social issues but not getting any sort of traction with the public. We’ll see.


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