Social conservatives and the GOP

It is no secret that there is considerable friction between the extreme fiscal wing of the GOP and its extreme social/religious one. The former occupy the top levels of the national party leadership and care mainly about helping the wealthy get wealthier at the expense of the rest of us, and have for long used conservative social issues mainly as a way to fire up their base and get them to vote for them. They managed to keep the nutters out of leadership positions in the party and tossed the crazies a few rhetorical crumbs now and then to keep them happy.

The social/religious conservatives have a greater voice at the local level and seem to have had enough of being marginalized. They now want to be in the driver’s seat of the party and they want their agenda to be the party’s road map, not relegated to an afterthought.

I said just after the 2008 election that John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate would cause this schism because with her the nutters got their first taste of leadership. They had tasted blood and wanted more. The surfacing of the divisions took longer to come to fruition than I expected but the tension has become more acute following the 2012 defeat, with the traditional GOP leadership seeing the demographic and social trends requiring them to ease up on formerly hard positions on homosexuality and, to a lesser extent, on immigration and abortion, and sending out signals that the party is thinking of softening its stand on these issues.

In response, a Who’s Who of social/religious conservatives have sent out a memo warning the GOP that if they soften their stand on same-sex marriage, they will abandon the party, though where they will go is not clear. One of them, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has already called on his followers to stop donating to the GOP unless they stop being ‘wobbly’ on same-sex marriage.

They sent this warning shot out on the eve of a meeting in Hollywood of the Republican National Committee and it looks like the pressure worked, at least for now, with the party passing a resolution that affirmed support for Proposition 8 and resisting giving the national leadership more power over candidate selection.

The victory in Hollywood assuaged the concerns of the grass-roots activists for now, but FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe cautioned in a statement after the vote that friction remains over whether power will continue to be held in the states or with party elites in Washington, D.C.

A new poll shows that 66% of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, even as the country as a whole increasingly accepts it so the problem GOP faces of whether to hold on to its core base while losing the country or appealing to the country while losing its base hasn’t gone away.


  1. intergalacticmedium says

    I can dream that they will fracture into two parties and tear each other apart but like the conservatives in the UK they manage to make it through dragging the regressives along with them.

  2. garnetstar says

    I rather think that cutting off the rotting limb that is the soclal conservatives may be the best of the bad alternatives that the Republicans now have.

    They’ll be out of power for some time, splitting the right-wing vote, but if they focus on traditional Republican ideas such as limited government and fiscal conservatism, they may attract a great many moderates, who may build them back up to a national party.

    I truly think that might be their only chance of survival.

  3. Trebuchet says

    66% of Republicans oppose gay marriage? That’s really surprising, I’d have expected much higher. It’s very bad news for the social conservatives, if true.

  4. dickspringer says

    I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but the situation in the Republican Party reminds me of what happened in Germany the 1920’s. Hitler clearly was the right-wing crazy of that time and the demographics of his supporters resemble those of the Republican right, namely, traditionalist rural and small-town Protestants disturbed by modernity. German industrialists saw Hitler as a useful tool against the left and gave him financial and other support, thinking that they ultimately could control him. We know how that turned out.

  5. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    limited government and fiscal conservatism

    These are mutually exclusive, of course…unless you’re willing to redefine “limited government” so as to allow aggressive union-busting and all the general thuggery in the interests of bosses and owners required for the proper operation of a “fiscal conservative” policy.

  6. Vote for Pedro says

    I think that usually is supposed to mean “government which doesn’t do very much and so isn’t very expensive,” which is not hard to reconcile, in theory at least.

    In practice, of course, that ship sailed in the 1930s, and so anyone in national politics who goes on about “limited government” is talking nonsense. So perhaps not worth disagreeing over, it being a moot point.

  7. jamessweet says

    There is a way forward for the GOP on marriage equality, but I suspect (or at least dearly hope) that the nutters will prevent it from coming about: They simply need to stop talking about marriage equality as much as possible. Don’t even mention it either way unless directly asked, and then if you can’t dodge the question, hedge and play the states’ rights card: “My personal Christian belief will always be that God views marriage as between a man and a woman. As to how the government views it, I believe that should be left up to the voters and legislatures of each state.” It’s the perfect response, because you get to say “homos are icky”, appeal to the states’ rights crowd, and strike subtle blow at “activist judges”, all while not actually opposing marriage equality.

    Luckily, enough GOP legislators are now true believers, so they won’t say that.

  8. jamessweet says

    Oh no, turns out younger Republicans are predominantly either in favor of marriage equality, or else have a distinct “Meh” response to the issue. Just as an anecdote: My wife’s cousins (ranging in age from early-20s to early-30s) are all conservative to the core — except on LGBT issues, on which they are almost as progressive as I am.

  9. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    like the conservatives in the UK they manage to make it through dragging the regressives along with them. – intergalacticmedium

    Interestingly, in the UK we now have something approximating the “Tea Party” standing as an independent party at elections: UKIP: xenophobic going on racist, low-tax, “libertarian”, anti-marriage equality, climate change denying… The religious angle is largely missing, and I can’t find any policy on abortion or contraception – those issues probably wouldn’t be electoral assets in the UK and are replaced by a core obsession with the evils of the European Union – they want the UK to leave, which would not suit (overwhelmingly Tory-supporting) big business in general or “The City” (London financiers) in particular. They have 11 MEPs, and are currently polling around 8% nationally, enough to deprive the Tories of any chance of an overall majority in a general election. Their power is enhanced because a considerable proportion of Tory MPs, activists and voters agree with UKIP on this core issue rather than with their own leadership. So here, a parallel split is increasingly out in the open, and likely to cost the right power.

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