As I relaxed after a long Mother’s Day weekend with family, this story from the Washington Times piqued my interest. Here’s Jeb Bush, who most consider the “establishment” Republican candidate, trying to make believers out of the religious Right as the graduation speaker at Liberty University. You may recall LU is where Ted Cruz kicked off his own 2016 campaign, and the school founded by the late Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell seems to be a popular stop on that circuit.
Yet I contrast this to the idea, popularized by some and echoed by that s0-called “establishment,” that the only path to victory is to moderate or even capitulate on some social issues, particularly gay “marriage.” Where are the Republican presidential candidates who are choosing to cater to this crowd? I think the answer is simple: there’s not enough voters there to really matter.
Something I’ve seen over the years, in many elections, is that it’s rare that a Republican can succeed by being Democrat-lite. I will grant that the most recent Maryland election could be seen as a case where the avoidance of social issues – despite the bait continually laid by desperate Democrats – may have assisted in a GOP victory. Or maybe it didn’t because there was only a tiny percentage of Maryland voters who are militantly pro-abortion or fanatical in their support for gay “marriage.” Regardless of whether the issue were brought up or not, most of those would have supported Anthony Brown. I can even turn the question on its head and ask those who are in a group like Millennial Maryland: let’s say Larry Hogan had come out against abortion and for traditional marriage. Would you, as nominal Republicans, have still supported Hogan?
You see, this is the question those who are considered “values voters” continually have to ask themselves when we see an otherwise conservative candidate fall all over themselves trying to pander to various centrist groups who would rather not see social issues be prominent campaign issues. I think most who are social conservatives realize it’s the economic message that carries the day overall, but having an evangelical candidate could be the difference between maybe just voting for the candidate (with the risk these discouraged voters may stay home or just vote down-ballot races) or being active in knocking on doors, making phone calls, and opening the checkbook.
Until someone can prove to me that there are millions who will beat down the doors to the GOP if they would just throw the values voters under the bus, I think I would lay my money on a conservative nominee who can stand on all three legs of the conservative stool – fiscal, social, and national security – and appeal to values voters. Is it not worth pointing out that Falwell’s Moral Majority was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election? I think he did pretty well for himself.
It seems to me that this part of the Republican Party needs to find its voice and make sure it nominates a clear alternative to the morally bankrupt policies of the political insiders. Yes, we call that Judeo-Christian values.