Ken Connor

Success in politics depends on the ability of a candidate or a party to forge and maintain coalitions. One of the most successful coalitions in modern political history has been the "Reagan Coalition", which brought together economic and social conservatives under the umbrella of the Republican Party. Preserving that coalition brought the Republicans great success, including occupancy of the White House and twelve years of control over the House of Representatives. The coalition that Reagan fashioned is fraying, however, and is on the verge of unraveling. The causes are many, but the coup de grace is likely to be the current controversy over immigration.

At first blush, the union of economic and social conservatives seems an odd one. The most influential among the economic conservatives are the "blue bloods". They are fiscally conservative, but often socially liberal. They enjoy the trappings of money and power and see politics as a means of increasing both. Consequently, they invest in political campaigns as a "cost of doing business", expecting that if they ride the right horse across the finish line, they will get a "return on investment" which usually comes in the form of tax breaks, financial subsidies, or limited accountability for their misconduct. Cash is the currency of the rich and powerful, and they do not hesitate to invest it in political campaigns. Financial concerns are at the top of their list.

By contrast, social conservatives are animated into political engagement out of concern about the direction in which the country is moving. They are often both socially and theologically conservative. They believe the country is on the wrong track and are disturbed by what they regard as the unraveling of the social fabric and the breakdown of the social order. The prevalence of abortions, the decline of marriage, the secularization of the culture—all are indications to social conservatives of a society on a downhill trajectory. They engage in politics in an attempt to bring about a "course correction" for the country. Lacking the financial means to make significant monetary contributions to political campaigns, they invest sweat and shoe leather. They are the sign-planting, precinct-walking, phone-banking "worker bees" of the party. They are best known as the Republican "base", but are derisively referred to as "blue collars" by many of the Republican elites who tolerate their social agenda with sniffing disdain.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.