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No Truces, No Trucers

Or mute buttons

The word truce is defined as “a suspension of hostilities for a specified period of time by mutual agreement of the warring parties; cease-fire; armistice.”  In recent months, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has turned this word “truce” into a rallying cry for libertarians and a curse word for social conservatives by calling for the next president to forge a “truce” with social conservatives on the pursuit of social issues.

And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved.

But you see, there were no “hostilities” to begin with.  The social conservatives were minding their own business, and Daniels sucker-punched them.  And that was just the start.

In November a group of “gay conservatives,” GOProud, and a mish-mash of other libertarian-leaning “Tea Party activists” joined in the fun with their own letter, asking Republicans to “resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests.”

And on Wednesday, Daniels, apparently not sufficiently stung by the storm of criticism that followed his original “truce talk,” decided to double down on his previous gaffe by stating:

“I would like to think that fixing [the debt] and saving our kids’ future could be a unifying moment for our country and we wouldn’t stop our disagreements or our passionate belief in these other questions, we just sort of mute them for a little while, while we try to come together on the thing that menaces us all”

Truce? “Rabbit holes?” “Mute button?” Ladies and gentlemen, if there weren’t hostilities before, there certainly are now.

Social conservatives have been relatively mute during the last several general elections. In 2006, few candidates ran with social conservative issues as a primary concern. In 2008, John McCain did not focus on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, pornography, etc., yet was supported by social conservatives.  In 2010, the GOP was wildly successful, in large part due to outrage stemming from the overwhelmingly leftist policies pressed by the Obama administration…and some of those outrageous policies strike the heart of the social conservative agenda – federal funding of abortion, repeal of DADT, etc. In the 2010 election, social conservatives were once again a very reliable voting bloc for the GOP, strongly supporting conservative candidates across the nation.

Yet Daniels and co. think they should be (even more) “muted”.

Looking back at the 2006 and 2008 elections….culturally left-leaning “centrists” repeatedly called for the silencing of social conservatives. Fortunately, cooler, saner heads, such as Ramesh Ponnuru, countered the calls of the Frum and Parker types. Ramesh, in particular, pointed out how the anti-socon crowd makes calls for “truces” and “mute buttons” without evidence that there is even a problem:

People who disagree with social conservatives should, of course, feel free to make their arguments on the issues. But the argument that socially conservative positions are a drag on Republican tickets is dubious, as is the fact-free fervor of those who insist on it. Check that Kathleen Parker quote above: The Evangelicals are “what ails the party.” The implication is not just that they are a bigger problem for Republicans than, say, the voters’ preference for Democrats on health care. It is that the latter issue is insignificant.

David Frum, similarly, has recently written that a “painful change” on abortion and a “less overtly religious” message is “the only hope for a Republican recovery.” This kind of sweeping language ought to be backed up by more evidence than the critics of the social Right have yet produced.

Ponnuru wrote this in 2008. Things haven’t changed. The current crowd of trucers continues to make such claims without any backing, and in the process antagonize and anger the very members of the GOP that have carried the party for years.  Case in point:  religious conservatives were again one of the strongest blocs of voters in the 2010 election.  Pew reports:

Similarly, voters who attend religious services regularly continued to support Republicans at much higher rates in 2010 than voters who attend worship services less often. Nearly six-in-ten of those who attend religious services at least weekly voted for the Republican House candidate in their district (58%), compared with 44% Republican support among those who attend religious services less often. Though changes in the exit poll question about religious attendance make direct comparisons with previous years impossible, previous analysis shows that frequency of worship attendance has been a remarkably strong and consistent predictor of the vote.

Contrary to the claims of the “Tea Party” adherents, those who support the tea party groups are largely social conservative as well:

- Nearly half (47%) also say they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement. Among the more than 8-in-10 (81%) who identify as Christian within the Tea Party movement, 57% also consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement.

- They make up just 11% of the adult population—half the size of the conservative Christian movement (22%).

- They are mostly social conservatives, not libertarians on social issues. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and less than 1-in-5 (18%) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

- They are largely Republican partisans. More than three-quarters say they identify with (48%) or lean towards (28%) the Republican Party. More than 8-in-10 (83%) say they are voting for or leaning towards Republican candidates in their districts, and nearly three-quarters (74%) of this group report usually supporting Republican candidates.

Doesn’t really sound like a group that needs to be “muted” to me.

The response to Daniels and the trucers has been harsh.  American Spectator’s W. James Antle called itcontemplation of unconditional surrender“.   Family Research Council president Tony Perkins statedThank goodness the Founding Fathers were not timid in their leadership; they understood that “truce” was nothing more than surrender.” Indiana Congressman Mike Pence responded “I believe with all my heart that Republicans need to continue to fight for the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage with everything we’ve got in 2010 and in 2012.”  And our own Erick Erickson said that Daniels and his remarks “are best ignored while reaffirming conservative principles“.

Few would claim that Gov. Daniels is a social liberal.  In fact, he has a good track record on social issues.  But there is no reason for him to stifle one of his strongest natural constituencies on these points.  There is no evidence that social conservative issues are negatively impacting the GOP.   While the “youth vote” is generally liberal on social issues, other key constituencies that the GOP must reach, such as the Hispanic and African-American vote, are fairly conservative on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.  If the GOP were to retreat/go silent on social conservative policies, the loss of social conservative voters (not to the Democrats, but by sitting out elections as many did in 2000) would not be overcome by an assumed attraction to other constituencies.  In the case of the GOProud/Tea Party letter, a number of the signatories of that document could be considered libertarian and/or socially liberal, and their motives are a bit less difficult to understand.

Several groups and individuals are voicing their disgust with Daniels and the trucers by taking a pass on this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).  While some sources are describing this as a “boycott,” there is no organized effort to convince social conservatives to skip CPAC.  This is simply a case where some have decided that the conference is not representing their interests because of CPAC’s support of Mitch and the Trucers.  The appearance of Daniels at CPAC’s Reagan Dinner is particularly objectionable to the American Principles Project.  APP Executive Director Andy Blom said that “Governor Daniels’ selection is an affront to the millions of conservatives who believe that social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage are non-negotiable”  Others have also decided to skip CPAC because of the truce talk.  Boycott?  No.  A decision based on principles?  Yes.

The sad part is that all of this could have been avoided.  There is no reason for social conservatism to even be an issue.  Social conservatives did not initiate this debate.  Social conservatives have not put a hard press on their (our) issues.  Yet they have become the scapegoat for the ills of the GOP.  If Daniels and the trucers choose to continue their crusade to silence social conservatives, the result may not be exactly as they wish…socons will not be swayed by policy capitulation.

The Corner’s Yuval Levin has a great summary to all this:

When it comes to the social and cultural issues, conservatives understand ourselves to be in a defensive struggle, and people defending themselves against an aggressive opponent are not generally in a position to declare a truce. We can talk about priorities in what is without question a time of fiscal crisis, but why not be clear that we will also continue working to defend innocent life and sustain the moral and social foundations of our society? Daniels’s record on these issues suggests he considers them important, and is not in doubt about where he stands. It wouldn’t hurt to say so.

“It wouldn’t hurt to say so”.  So true.  But the fact remains that he/they never should have said anything in the first place.

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