For years it has been conventional wisdom that the GOP needs the votes of social conservatives to win elections. Defined loosely, a “social conservative” is someone who has very traditional, restrictionist views on so-called “social issues” like abortion and same-sex marriage. These voters are mostly white and evangelical Christians. They support strong restrictions on abortion and oppose any recognition of gay couples. In short, they are basically anti-libertarians. As such, the moderate wing of the party has always them as a necessary but disliked coalition partner.
In recent years, though, the tide has started to turn against this strategy. The portion of the electorate that votes strictly on social issues is shrinking. Attitudes are changing on gay rights and, while the country tends to lean pro-life, it’s fairly clear that most voters are repulsed by the extreme views held by some pro-life polticians. It’s clear, then, that the GOP can’t rely on anti-gay rhetoric and severe positions on abortion to win.
The call, then, naturally is coming from those who never even liked social conservatives to push this portion of the voting population to the wayside. Some, like my colleague Jeremy Kolassa, argue that the GOP should entirely ignore social conservatives. The thinking goes that moderating on abortion and gay rights will gather enough new votes to make it possible to live without hardline social cons.