Why Republicans Usually Win On Social Issues (And Why This Helps Rick Santorum)

Regarding my last post (“Just Sit In The Corner And Shut The Hell Up!” They Said), more than one pundit happens to agree with my basic premise, that social issues are a winner and not a loser for the GOP, and that we need to be wary of simply running on the economy.

The key points supporting this premise can be found in a book by Jeff Bell called, The Case for Polarized Politics. James Taranto reported in his review of the book,

Social conservatism, Mr. Bell argues in his forthcoming book, “The Case for Polarized Politics,” has a winning track record for the GOP. “Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964,” he observes. “The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.”
The Democrats who won, including even Barack Obama in 2008, did not play up social liberalism in their campaigns. In 1992 Bill Clinton was a death-penalty advocate who promised to “end welfare as we know it” and make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” Social issues have come to the fore on the GOP side in two of the past six presidential elections—in 1988 (prison furloughs, the Pledge of Allegiance, the ACLU) and 2004 (same-sex marriage). “Those are the only two elections since Reagan where the Republican Party has won a popular majority,” Mr. Bell says. “It isn’t coincidental.” …
Mr. Bell sees social issues as the path to a GOP majority in 2012. They account for the George W. Bush-era red-blue divide, which Mr. Bell says endures—and, he adds, red has the advantage: “There was one state in 2000 that Bush carried that I would say was socially left of center, and that was New Hampshire,” the only state that flipped to John Kerry four years later. “By 2004, every state—all 31 states that Bush carried—were socially conservative states.” Those states now have 292 electoral votes, with 270 sufficient for a majority.
By contrast, not all the Kerry states are socially liberal. “The swing vote in the Midwest is socially conservative and less conservative economically,” Mr. Bell says, so that “social conservatism is more likely to be helpful than economic conservatism.”
Among states that last voted Republican in 1988 or earlier, he classifies two, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as socially conservative, and two more, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as “mildly” so. That adds up to 35 states, with 348 electoral votes, in which social conservatism is an advantage.

Taranto, quoting Bell, goes on at length to talk about Santorum’s candidacy, and why he can win:

Mr. Santorum is the most consistent and unapologetic social conservative in the race, but Mr. Bell rejects the common claim that he places too strong an emphasis on social issues: “I think that’s unfair to Santorum. He goes out of his way to say that he has an economic platform, he isn’t just about social issues.”
He notes that on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend, host David Gregory opened his interview with the candidate by asking a series of questions about social issues, one of which he prefaced by saying that such issues “have come . . . to define your campaign.”
Mr. Santorum disputed the premise: “It’s not what’s defining my campaign. I would say that what’s defining my campaign is going out and talking about liberty, talking about economic growth, talking about getting manufacturing jobs back here to this country, trying to grow this economy to make sure that everybody in America can participate in it.”

Then we have Matt Lewis in the Daily Caller:

On CNN Sunday morning, Rep. Ron Paul, who — for all the “small-government” conservative talk — harbors an odd infatuation for Mitt Romney — implied that social issues are “a losing position.” In this regard, Paul, a paleoconservative (a nearly-extinct species most known for losing national elections), seems to have a short memory …
As much as moderate Republicans and cosmopolitan conservatives might lament the resurrection of the culture wars (which were foisted upon us, and appear to have been rekindled once again by liberal overreach), they were electorally fruitful for the GOP.
What is more, the notion that running on the economy (what Mr. Romney presumably seems comfortable doing) is a panacea, is dubious. The economy appears to be recovering (at least, the unemployment rate is dropping), a point which will obviously make it harder, should the trend continue, to oust Obama.
Even more to the point, history does not seem indicate that a struggling economy — regardless of who is to blame — or who currently occupies the White House — will benefit the Republican candidate in a general election. (This, of course, is controversial. Jimmy Carter’s handling of the economy was surely one cause of his 1980 defeat, but would he have been defeated had it not been for the Iranian hostages?)
The trouble for Republican presidential hopefuls trying to make hay of a struggling economy is that, when times are hard, liberals can always out-promise and out-class-warfare their adversaries. Thus, national elections that focus instead on foreign policy or cultural issues have tended to skew more favorably to the GOP.

Both articles should be read in full. Suffice to say, social issues are not at all a losing proposition when it comes to presidential politics. Indeed, whoever the GOP nominates this year will inevitably focus on social issues in order to rally the base and get out the vote. The question is, who do you trust more to actually implement conservative policies?

I am still with Rick Santorum.

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6 Responses to Why Republicans Usually Win On Social Issues (And Why This Helps Rick Santorum)

  1. Interesting that in your last entry, you said, “None [of the candidates] is all that more electable than the other[s],” then you spent most of that entry and all of this entry trying to convince people that Santorum actually is all that more electable than the others.

    • John Scotus says:

      I think he has an edge on the issues. Just an edge. Bu the rationale people are giving for not choosing Santorum is that if he is chosen it will be a bruising fight, no? But it will be a bruising fight no matter who is nominated, so why not go with someone who has an edge, whom you trust, and whom you agree with?

      • If you believe Santorum will have more of an edge in the general than the other Republicans, if you agree with policies and trust that he’ll follow through on them, then yeah, you probably should vote for Santorum. I will say that Santorum is probably the most trustworthy candidate at this point, and I have no doubt that he will at least try to follow through on his campaign promises. My biggest problem with him is what those promises are.

  2. Pingback: Ron Paul on Social Conservatism: ‘I Think It’s a Losing Position’ | CNSNews.com « ~ BLOGGER.GUNNY.G.1984+. ~ (BLOG & EMAIL)

  3. Pingback: Two Charts that Panic the GOP | GoodOleWoody's Blog

  4. Pingback: Two Charts that Panic the GOP | GoodOleWoody's Blog

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