Atheist-turned-Catholic blogger Leah Libresco has a new gig working for the American Conservative magazine, and she’s produced some fascinating reporting on the 2014 CPAC convention, including a piece titled “Social Cons in Retreat at CPAC”
It might be a tradition that every year that GOProud is excluded as a CPAC sponsor, there will be a stealth panel on gay marriage.
In 2013, that slot was filled by the “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” panel, which was the standing-room only panel thrown unofficially by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This year, the gay rights debate happened on the mainstage at during “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”…
Throughout the panel, the social conservatives seemed to be soliciting the help of the libertarians, trying to speak their language, while the libertarians seemed indifferent to the idea of converting social conservatives. The libertarians answered the questions that were posed to them but made no parallel attempts to appeal to socially conservative tenets in order to attract their fellow panelists to libertarian positions…
By the conclusion of the panel, the speakers agreed that social conservatives and libertarians could remain bedfellows, albeit strange ones. However, the tone and tactics on display reinforced Ross Douthat’s assertion that social conservatives are no longer negotiating as equals, but are working out the terms of a conditional surrender.
It’s worth noting that what Leah’s saying is rather stronger than what Douthat actually said. Douthat was talking about opponents of gay marriage surrendering within the larger culture, but Leah sounds like she’s talking about a surrender of social conservatives to the more libertarian elements within the Republican party. And her phrasing on Twitter was in some ways more blunt:
— Leah Libresco (@LeahLibresco) March 8, 2014
This isn’t entirely surprising. Support for gay marriage is now pushing 59% of the population. Over a third of Americans now live in marriage equality states. It’s been obvious for awhile now that the Republican party would eventually have to pivot away from anti-gay bigotry and heavy reliance on religious voters in general. But to hear Leah tell it, that pivot is already happening right now, which is much sooner than I would’ve expected it to.
It’s interesting to compare this with Leah’s coverage of American Atheists being ejected from CPAC. According to Leah, both AA’s David Silverman and Secular Coalition for America’s Edwina Rogers self-identify as conservatives. I knew about Rogers, but had dismissed her as a hack who was hired more for PR chops than for having any kind of coherent view on anything. Silverman surprised me, though. There are plenty of atheist libertarians, but in the current political climate, “atheist conservative” almost seems like a contradiction in terms. The exception that proves the rule is the vapid S. E. Cupp, who talks about how she wishes she were religious.
The story about AA getting booted from CPAC at first seems at odds with Leah’s more recent reporting, suggesting that religious conservatives aren’t totally in retreat yet. But the fact that they bothered trying at all, and that Silverman is calling himself a conservative without making any concessions to the religious, could alternatively be seen as a sign of just how close we are to realignment. I expect Republicans to at least continue playing lip service to the religious right in the 2016 election, but given the polling numbers smarter candidates may try to stay away from topics like gay marriage as much as possible.