The Tempting of Religious Conservatives

By George Neumayr

One of the spoils of victory, as the left sees it, is dispensing unsolicited advice to the vanquished. In 2004, after John Kerry's defeat, liberals bristled at suggestions that they move rightward. They stayed put and waited for a better candidate. But their own rigidity never stops them from extolling the virtues of ideological flexibility to defeated Republicans.

The goal of such advice, of course, is not to strengthen the GOP but to turn it into America's second liberal party. It appears that this propagandistic hectoring has already won a few converts. Several prominent conservatives have joined liberals in calling for the GOP to embrace higher tax rates for the rich, amnesty for illegal immigrants, and relaxed stances on abortion and gay marriage.

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Meanwhile, a narrative is emerging that largely blames the GOP's woes on the religious right. Never mind that Romney ran a campaign exclusively on economic issues. If anything, 2012 is a rebuke to small-minded GOP strategists who adopted James Carville's line that "it is the economy, stupid." As Obama figured out, races more often turn on "values." By communicating to the most fervent members of his base that he embodied their values -- which he achieved largely through his "war on women" posturing -- Obama inspired a sufficient turnout. Romney appeared to leave his base cold. He got even fewer votes than John McCain.

The last Republican to win Ohio was George W. Bush. He didn't win that state on economic issues. He won it on gay marriage. Romney's laser-like focus on jobs and his studious aversion to social issues didn't seem to help him in the state. Ohioans evidently saw him as a plutocratic fiscal conservative with whom they couldn't relate.

Paul Ryan, who might have appealed to blue-collar white voters on social issues, rarely mentioned them. Romney even pulled him a bit to the left on those issues: Ryan, hit with a question about the policy of openly gay soldiers in the military, said a Romney administration would accept Obama's change and suggested to his fellow conservatives that they "move on."

Contrary to the media's myth-making and the left's overheated descriptions of him, Romney stuck to his moderate credentials. He supported gay adoption, told an editorial board in Iowa that he wouldn't take any real action on abortion, and generally signaled boredom with the culture war. Even the Chick-fil-A controversy was too much for him. "Romney Doesn't Defend Chick-fil-A," ran one headline at the time.

Yet none of this stops the media from conveniently casting the election results as a repudiation of social conservatism. Romney "shifted" to the center too late, according to this narrative. No, he started on the center and stayed there. As Obama devoted his energies to firing up liberals, Romney searched for independents who didn't materialize.

Religious conservatives in the House of Representatives did better than Romney. Many of them held their seats. Hispanics rejected Romney in huge numbers. But how would taking the media's advice of dropping social conservatism help Republicans with that group? The GOP's fiscal conservatism isn't appealing to them. Take away the party's pro-life stance and Hispanics will have absolutely no reason to vote for Republicans.

Much of the media's criticism of religious conservatives is designed to take religion out of the religious right. "Find new issues," pundits advise them. In other words, join the religious left and reduce religion down to "social justice."

All of this talk rests on foolish assumptions about permanent majorities and inexorable cultural change-talk which liberals didn't take seriously in 2004 and conservatives shouldn't submissively accept now. It also ignores the true purpose of politics, which is not simply to win but to win on sound principles. A win-at-all-costs concept of politics is at the root of America's crisis. It has produced demagogues, not statesmen.

In dispensing this shallow advice, the media seeks to turn politics into nothing more than a bidding war for liberals and America into a de facto one-party state. How does it benefit the country to have two parties colluding in the same errors?

According to Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, conservatives should base their positions not on philosophy but on polling. "The issue of gay marriage is a generational one, a battle that social conservatives have lost," she writes. "The American people have changed their minds on the issue and fighting this one is political flat-earthism."

This is premature huffing and puffing. She doesn't mention that over thirty states still oppose gay marriage. But worse it is rawly unprincipled and corrupt counsel. Under it, American politics can only degenerate further into what Jesus Christ called "the blind leading the blind."

George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author (with Phyllis Schlafly) of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.

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