Purging social conservatives from the GOP

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.

via Can This Party Be Saved? | TIME.com.

He goes on to make the case for the latter.  Never mind that the last two Republican presidential losers downplayed social issues and were not representative of the Christian right.

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?

The fate of moral issues

The Republicans did not make a big deal of  moral or “cultural” issues during the last election.  Little was said about abortion.  Conservatives were well-behaved when it came to gay marriage.  Unlike previous elections, Republicans–including social conservatives who care a great deal about these issues–pretty much left them alone.

But the Democrats, in contrast, did run on moral and cultural issues.  They attacked conservatives for opposing abortion and gay marriage.  They went further, scaring the general public that the Republicans would outlaw birth control and enslave women.

And the Democrats won on these issues.  Their take on moral and social issues was, in fact, very important.  Single women voted overwhelmingly for Obama, largely, according to the exit polls, because of “women’s issues.”  Clumsy and unsophisticated treatment of the “rape exception” for abortion on the part of two pro-life candidates cost arguably cost Republicans the Senate.

So we have reached the point at which conservative moral issues are political losers and liberal moral issues–gay marriage, abortion on demand–are political winners.

So what now for social conservatives?

Christian right leaders anoint Santorum

A conclave of leaders of  social conservative organizations and evangelical political activist groups voted to rally behind Rick Santorum:

A week before the pivotal South Carolina primary, Rick Santorum’s quest to emerge as the chief alternative to Mitt Romney received a boost Saturday from a group of evangelical leaders and social conservatives who voted to back his candidacy in a last-ditch effort to stop the GOP front-runner’s march to the nomination.

About three-quarters of some 150 pastors and Christian conservative political organizers meeting in Texas sided with Santorum over a home-state favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — an outcome that illustrated continuing divisions within the ranks of conservatives who make up the base of the GOP.

The gathering also reflected the lingering dissatisfaction with Romney over abortion rights and other issues, and the belief of conservatives that they need to unite behind one contender before the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary if they are to derail the former Massachusetts governor they view as too moderate. Romney leads narrowly in polls here after victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who attended the Texas meeting.

It’s unclear, however, whether conservative voters will heed the advice of these leaders and back Santorum particularly with other conservative candidates still in the race. The backing of a chunk of conservative leaders could help Santorum, who long has run a shoestring campaign, raise money and set up stronger get-out-the-vote operations.

via Santorum Backed by Social Conservative Leaders – ABC News.

Much will be said about Santorum as the evangelical candidate.  Remember, though, that he is not an evangelical.  He is a Roman Catholic.  Notice how tolerant evangelical activists have become!

I know the complaints about Santorum, as have come up in the discussions here, is that he is a big government conservative, that he wants to use the power of the federal government to promote his moral agenda (however laudable that might be).  What would be an example of that?  His opposition to gay marriage and abortion?  His favoring constitutional amendments to address those issues?  Isn’t it the government that has been pushing gay marriage and abortion?  The constitution limits government, so why isn’t working for a constitutional amendment an appropriate tactic?  Or are you thinking of something else?

Also, in other election news, Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the race.