Ahead of the 2014 midterm elections and 2016 presidential race, Republican candidates appear to be ignoring its social conservative base. Social conservatives believe this is a losing strategy.
The conventional wisdom among Republican candidates and strategists these days appears to be: 1) talk about the failures of "Obamacare," 2) talk about the economy and unemployment, 3) avoid social issues like marriage and abortion.
By avoiding talking about abortion and marriage, those Republicans believe they can avoid the Democrat's attacks on those issues, Connie Mackey, president of FRC Action PAC, a political action committee associated with Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in an April 22 interview. That strategy is "absurd," she believes, because "running away from those issues may cause them more trouble."
Scanning at the websites of Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, for instance, reveals little mention of the issues that social conservatives care about. (See, for instance, the websites of Bill Cassidy, Tom Cotton or Ed Gillespie.) Last month, the Nevada Republican Party made that agenda more explicit by striking all language related to abortion or marriage from its platform.
Plus, at a conservative conference last month in New Hampshire, three potential 2016 presidential candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), Sen. Rand Paul (Tenn.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, all downplayed the importance of social issues, Buzzfeed reported.
When Huckabee was asked whether the Republican Party is spending too little time addressing cultural issues, he answered no. Those issues do not need to be addressed, he claimed, because the public knows where the candidates stand on those issues and the economy is the "number one issue."
Paul went even further last week when he said he would not only downplay abortion as a candidate, but would do so if elected president as well. In a recent interview with former Obama advisor David Axelrod, Paul was asked if he would sign or promote a law that banned abortion (or restricted abortion – the question was not stated clearly). Paul answered, "no, I think that where the country is, I think persuasion is part of this, I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle and that we're not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise."
FRC President Tony Perkins responded to Paul's remarks in an op-ed for The Christian Post. Social conservatives do not just want a president who will sign a pro-life bill if it comes to his/her desk, he explained, they want a president who will make the anti-abortion case to the public.
"Obviously, no president has the power to unilaterally ban abortion, but he does have the power to make the issue a priority – something most Americans assumed Rand Paul would do," he wrote. "Regardless of the GOP's pick, conservatives expect their nominee to use the Oval Office to advance a culture of life. Changing minds is important, but what better way to accomplish it than using a national platform to talk about its importance?"
Much of the recent media discussion about battles within the Republican Party has been about the split between the Tea Party and so-called "establishment" Republicans, which is a reference to party leaders and elected officials. In a February interview with The Christian Post, Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said that social conservatives also challenge party leaders, but they have a better relationship with party leaders than the Tea Party does.
When looking at the five of the six Senate races where Republicans hope to make gains this year, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and South Dakota, Mackey said all of the leading Republican candidates are acceptable to social conservatives.
The sixth, West Virginia, will likely be won by Republican Shelley Moore Capito, who is inconsistent on social issues. Mackey said Capito is not "with us," but she would like to see Republicans pick up that seat. FRC Action will neither oppose nor support Capito.
There are two races that show a clear split between social conservatives and establishment Republicans.
In the Oregon senate race, a pro-choice Republican, Monica Wehby, is being supported by a number of Republican senators, including Tom Coburn (Okla.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Richard Burr (N.C.). Wehby is running against pro-life Republican Jason Conger, who has received the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life.
The other race is California's 52nd U.S. House district. All of the House Republican leaders – Speaker of the House John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy – lended their early support to Carl DeMaio, one of two openly-gay Republicans running for their first congressional seat this year. Demaio is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage.
FRC Action is supporting Kirk Jorgensen in that race. Jorgensen, a decorated Marine Corps veteran, raised $400,000 in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Mackey said she was shocked that House Republican leaders would back DeMaio so early in the race.
Another interesting race is the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina, which has become a three-way race between an establishment candidate (Thom Tillis), a Tea Party candidate (Greg Brannon) and a social conservative candidate (Mark Harris).
Harris, a Southern Baptist pastor, was a leader in the fight to add a marriage amendment to the North Carolina constitution. Mackey said FRC supported Harris because he is a "known quantity" and "a hero of ours." Unlike the California 52 race, though, the establishment candidate is also a social conservative. If Tillis wins the primary, Mackey said they would support him in the general election.
That there are only two races that show a clear split between social conservatives and establishment Republicans supports Reed's assertion that those battles are not as contentious as those between the establishment and the Tea Party. Social conservatives may find solace in the fact that most Republican politicians are still with them on the issues. To convince voters of their positions, however, they need candidates that are willing to publicly make arguments in favor of those positions.