As Christian activists are trying to think through the parameters of political involvement, some Republicans are thinking their party may be better off without them. In an opinion piece that is attracting lots of party discussion, Republican consultant Mike Murphy argues that the GOP needs to drop socially-conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage in favor of a “a more secular and modernizing conservatism.”
The Republican challenge is not about better voter-turnout software; it is about policy. We repel Latinos, the fastest-growing voter group in the country, with our nativist opposition to immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship. We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues. And we have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.
A debate will now rage inside the GOP between the purists, who will as always call for more purity, and the pragmatists, who will demand modernization. The media, always culturally alien to intra-Republican struggles, will badly mislabel this contest as one between “moderate” and “right-wing” Republicans. In fact, the epic battle we Republicans face now is a choice between two definitions of conservatism.
One offers steadfast opposition to emerging social trends like multiculturalism and secularization. The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.
Bloomberg’s Josh Barro argues that it was precisely the economic issues favored by establishment country club Republicans that alienated middle class voters:
The Republican Party’s key electoral problem doesn’t come from social conservatives or nativists. It comes from the economic policy demands of the party’s wealthy donors. Murphy allows that Republicans “have lost much of our once solid connection to the middle class on kitchen-table economic issues.” But his prescription won’t do anything to fix that problem.
What are the “kitchen-table” economic concerns of the middle class? They’re high unemployment, slow income growth, underwater mortgages, and the rising cost of health care and higher education. Democrats have an agenda that is responsive to these concerns. Republicans don’t — and they don’t because the party’s donor class specifically doesn’t want one.
For more discussion and links to other voices in the debate, see this post at First Thoughts.
So what do you make of this? Would you support a “secular and modernizing” Republican party?