Culture War Breaks out in GOP

The civil war in the Republican Party has begun—although in some ways it’s less bloody than I expected, given the battering the party took in the presidential and Senate elections last week.

The principal source of contention appears to be the role of social conservatives, otherwise known as the Christian right—an active, reliable voting bloc that is strongly against abortion and gay marriage and has traditional views of the role of women.

Well, women–particularly younger, unmarried women–deserted the GOP in droves last week. Along with Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans, they handed President Obama a surprisingly large Electoral College victory and gave Democrats a bigger than expected majority in the US Senate.

Particularly problematic were Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who blew their chances by making ignorant, Medieval comments about rape–comments that tainted the whole Republican enterprise, from Mitt Romney down.

Republican Rep. Todd Akin ran a losing campaign for U.S. Senator from Missouri. Photo: Flickr/KOMUnews.

Now, some thoughtful Republicans are criticizing the disproportionate role the Christian right plays in their party. Here’s Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post:

The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him, and the self-righteous tried to bring him down. The nitwits are well-enough known at this point — those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.

And George Will:

The speed with which civil unions and same-sex marriage have become debatable topics and even mainstream policies is astonishing. As is conservatives’ failure to recognize this: They need not endorse such policies, but neither need they despise those, such as young people, who favor them.

But culture warrior Erick Erickson in Red State is having none of it:

You may mentally decide…that if only the GOP would abandon its social conservatism it would do better. But if you do, go find yourself a new coalition because you won’t have half the votes the GOP has now. Good luck with that…Addition through subtraction never really works well.

Erickson is technically right: Half the GOP primary voters this year were evangelical Christians, but they’re only 26% of the total  electorate.

So, they have a stranglehold on the GOP nominating process, which is why Romney had to twist himself into a pretzel to placate them. Unless they change their minds about core religious principles like opposition to abortion and gay marriage, future Republican candidates may face the same problem Romney did: Getting the nomination may ruin their chance of winning the general election.

“Any candidate who ignores these voters and the values that motivate them does so at their own peril,” threatened Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

By joining at the hip with the Christian right, Republicans have made what is in effect a pact with the Devil. And good luck with getting out of one of those.

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