Ken Connor

With Mitt Romney now the presumptive Republican nominee, the battle for the 2012 Presidency has begun in earnest. And, as is not uncommon, the outcome of this year's race is expected to hinge on that slice of the electorate that doesn't pledge fealty to any political party, the so-called independent voters. According to a recent article in the New York Times, many top Republican strategists are concerned that a growing focus on social issues by the Party's base has the potential to alienate Independents from the ticket this fall. Victory lies, they insist, with the candidate that makes the most compelling economic argument to Independents. Any distraction from this issue, they maintain, cedes political ground to the other side. What these GOP insiders fail to understand, however, is that the future of the country is more important to grassroots conservatives than the future of the Republican Party, and that economic health and prosperity is not sustainable without a robust moral and cultural foundation.

The growing trend of state-level legislation aimed at addressing key social issues like abortion, gun control, working rights, and education reflects a deep concern among traditional conservatives that the country is on the wrong track. A Republican Party that chooses to tiptoe around the systemic corrosion of vital cultural institutions like marriage and family, that elects to ignore the devaluation of the sanctity of life and liberty all for the sake of one election cycle is a party suffering from the worst kind of political myopathy – a willingness to trade the long term health of the country for short term electoral gain. This brand of "pragmatism" has never carried much weight with social conservatives, who believe that certain foundational principles should be defended regardless of the political consequences. For them the political process is merely one vehicle by which individuals come together in pursuit of greater ends, not – as many Beltway careerists view it – as an end it itself. Republican king-makers and policy strategists who fail to appreciate the values and vision that motivate the traditional base of the GOP will find that base more than willing to look elsewhere for representation.

Though it is easy to overlook given the overwhelming focus on Washington, D.C., it is important to remember that the solution to our country's problems are not found exclusively within the political arena. While both sides of the aisle have become more and more inclined to look to government for solutions, many Americans recognize that politicians on Capitol Hill and bureaucrats in committee meetings are unwilling to address – much less solve – the many vital issues facing our nation. Real solutions and real change are often to be found in the social, cultural, and spiritual arenas. Strengthen families and communities, foster a culture of life and faith, and the results will provide the foundation necessary for America to thrive. Economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility will be the natural by-products of an America that embraces its founding ideals and values.

For GOP political operatives to suggest that "social issue" conservatives mute their voices indicates a complete lack of understanding of what animates their involvement in the party, not to mention a lack of appreciation for the vital contributions this wing of the Party has made to past electoral successes. Social conservatives want to use the microphone available in the political arena in this election to express their concerns about issues that transcend economics. If that venue is shut out to them as a vehicle for expression, they will find another one. If the Republican Party has become merely a shill for special interest politics as usual and no longer represents foundational principles of conservatism, then social conservatives will move their allegiance elsewhere. And if a party does not exist that will advocate their cause, they will create their own. If this means defeat for Republican candidates, so be it.

This is the new reality facing the GOP. The Republican leadership in Washington is being presented with a choice. If they wish to advance a responsible fiscal agenda and put America back on the right economic track, they should be willing to lend an ear and a voice to those in the Party who wish to address social and cultural concerns. Failure to so will not only ensure President Obama's reelection, it will likely to spell the beginning of the end for the Grand Old Party.


Ken Connor

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