For the longest time I have believed -- and continue to believe -- Republicans will not nominate a social liberal as their presidential candidate, but even more so that if they do, they will severely handicap themselves in the general election.
The Washington Times reports that some Republican Party officials are concerned their party is drifting away from social conservatism in anticipation of the 2008 election. One RNC member said, in effect, that it would be electoral suicide for the GOP to nominate a pro-choice and pro-homosexual marriage presidential candidate.
Another member (not surprisingly, from the Northeast), said the party is drifting away from social conservatism but seemed to be pleased with the development. Robert Manning said, "There's an awareness among the national committee that the issues which are of dominant importance to a broad section of voters are tending toward national security and economics and less the social-religious issues that were dominant in prior campaigns."
But Manning's money quote was, "If the party has its headlights on, it responds to issues that concern a majority of voters. That's how you craft successful platforms, and that's what candidates build successful candidacies around."
Manning, like most GOP "moderates," is promoting the exact wrong formula for GOP electoral success. A vibrant, contagious, successful GOP is not reactive, as Manning suggests, nor a dog that allows itself to be wagged by its tail.
But the most successful Republican coalition in ages was that built by Ronald Reagan, a pro-active, unapologetic economic, social and foreign policy conservative. He did not build his coalition by diluting his principles, but by articulating them without compromise or filter.
For those who might have forgotten, the mainstream media, which was immeasurably more powerful at the time of Reagan's rise, tagged Reagan as a dangerous extremist. They said his tax-cutting policies would bankrupt America, his social policies would send women to the back allies for abortions, and he would ignite World War III with the Soviet Union.
The GOP social liberal who urges the party leftward in the name of sound strategic analysis is allowing his own policy preferences to skew his thinking. For if he truly understood history or the pulse of the conservative movement that still drives the GOP, he would see the folly of his prescriptions for the party.
Those GOP "moderates" can't seem to get past their own belief that pro-life conservatives are indeed extreme and so assume it will be easy for Democrats to paint them as such in the election. But most Americans are less likely to view those defending innocent life as extreme than those defending its extermination in the name of women's rights. They are less apt to consider the championship of traditional marriage as extreme than forcing society to sanction, even celebrate homosexual unions.
Interestingly, Democrats instinctively understand the awesome power of social conservatives -- they call them values voters. That's why for the last three or four years we've seen stories every other month or so about the Democrats' "new" efforts to woo values voters. That's also among the reasons those same Democrats have made such a concerted effort to shut out Christian conservatives from the public square under the cover of a church-state separation crusade.
No matter what the polls now show, I believe social liberals like Rudy Giuliani are long shots for the GOP nomination. Even promises to appoint originalist judges won't likely mollify the conservative base, because if you are pro-choice, it's doubtful you strongly believe Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided or that you'll be passionate about overturning it. You'll also be less inclined to disagree with the left's expansive view of the Establishment Clause that effectively suppresses religious liberty in the name of protecting it.
Much of Mitt Romney's difficulties with the base can be traced to its unease with his flip-flop on the life issue. It's not that the base is unforgiving concerning his past views, but that it is not sure his "conversion" is authentic. With the base, trust is as important as the underlying issues.
I admit I'm less certain than I was before 9/11 that it would be virtually impossible for a social liberal to capture the GOP nomination. But "virtually impossible" has only been upgraded to "highly unlikely."
To argue it's more important to have a strong leader in the war on terror than one who will stand up for traditional values is to present a false choice. There are a number of capable, credible and electable candidates out there who are "right" across the spectrum.