FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The GOP cannot out-left the Left
Cutting off one leg of the stool makes no sense
On The Day After, David Frum wrote an election post-mortem that told the GOP that we must move left. His words:
College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.
So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues.
I’ve read a couple of Frum’s works, and he is consistent in imploring the GOP to move more to the middle. This seems to be a theme, and it’s creeping into the writings of our diarists and commenters. And frankly, I’m a little annoyed by it.
I swore I wouldn’t do an election postmortem, because I find them somewhat tiresome. But it is required in order to make the point that a move left on social issues is a wrong move. So why do I believe McCain failed last Tuesday? Several factors:
- George W. Bush hangover – Obama was quite successful in hanging the “four more years of failed Bush policies” meme on McCain’s back. This country has had enough of President Bush, and frankly, it’s not just the Dems – it extends pretty far into the GOP as well. The Hope Hype plays here, big time.
- Economics – It’s no big secret that McCain took a nose dive in the polls after the finance industry meltdown began and the DJIA followed suit. Despite the fact that the collapse of the mortgage industry was largely on the shoulders of the Clinton administration and the Dems who pushed for governmental interventions such as the CRA, Bush and the GOP were the fall guys.
- Taxes – Obama was successful in painting himself as the Tax Cutter, despite the fact that his 95% pledge is mathematically impossible and his $250K income ceiling shifted faster than a NASCAR driver. Strike another advantage for McCain.
- National security – Well, O didn’t win this one, but the Iraq war is on the down side (thank God), and there have been no significant terrorist hits in recent months (thank God again), so this was not an area where the electorate had huge concerns (McCain supporters in the GOP, perhaps, but not the bulk of the voters)
Did you note anything conspicuously absent from the campaign rhetoric and “why did Obama win” talking points? How about social issues? Other than GOP/conservative points about Obama’s radical support of abortion (which was NOT picked up by the Obamedia), there was relative silence outside California, where the debate about Prop 8 was hot and heavy. And… what won in CA? Why, Prop 8. One of the most liberal states in the union passed a ballot measure that is anathema to liberals.
The GOP cannot win by trying to be Democrat copycats. If voters want socialists, they will go to the real thing, which they did. In Friday’s NYT Op-Ed, Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out (as many here have) that McCain failed with the moderates. Ponnuru states:
Based on the exit polls from 2004 and Tuesday, Republicans have lost more ground among self-described moderates than among conservatives. Even if Senator McCain had won the same percentage of conservatives that President Bush did in 2004, he would not have won. Moving right will work only if moderates are given a reason to move right too.
But the money quote from Ramesh is here:
The way to court these moderates is not to abandon social conservatism, which would alienate many of the voters Republicans still have. The party needs to “move to the middle” less than it needs to move to the middle class: to go back to representing the interests of voters in the middle of the income spectrum.
This is where Obama succeeded – he appealed to the middle class with his
lies promises about a middle class tax cut and universal health care coverage – an issue that is near and dear to most in the middle class.
What of the social conservatives? Why can’t the GOP just move left on social issues and allow the center to “pick up the slack?” As Naomi Schaefer Riley stated in Friday’s WSJ, the Evangelical voting block continued its virtually unbroken support for the GOP, and over 74% of “white, born-agains” voted for McCain. Evangelicals were again the most dependable, loyal supporters – 23% of the electorate, although interestingly, McCain dropped seven percentage points with Catholics from Bush in 2004. With these numbers in mind, would it be sane for the GOP to stick its fingers in the eye of its most dependable voting bloc? I think not. Riley notes:
As Republicans lick their wounds over the next few months, some will ask whether the GOP coalition of small-government proponents, foreign-policy hawks and religious conservatives can be preserved. Members of the first two groups may suggest that the social issues are simply too divisive, that the party should focus on the free market at home or strength abroad. Leave aside for a minute that most evangelicals support those ideas as well. Tuesday provides plenty of reasons to believe that the culture war is not over and to suggest that social issues, instead of being blamed for the Republican loss, should be the key to the party’s expansion.
It makes no sense for the GOP to move left on social issues. Social conservatism is but one of three legs of the conservative stool – fiscal conservatism and “defense conservatism” are the other two. The GOP has much work to do on the FiCon side in wiping away the excesses of the Bush administration, and we must also work to ensure that the progress made in national security during the Bush years are not unraveled by the peacenik wing of the Democrat side of the aisle. We must keep the legs of the stool even. Cutting off the SoCon leg would be unwise, if not stupid.
We should not – we cannot – out-left the Left.