OCALA, Fla., June 2, 2014 — The Republican Party can’t seem to keep in step with modern times.
While fiscal conservatism will always be unappealing to a certain segment of the electorate — one which is growing at an alarming rate — there are millions of disaffected voters out there. They have no serious opposition to free enterprise or a more limited welfare state, but nonetheless feel that the GOP has nothing to offer.
The reason is social rightism.
One of its pillars is opposition to same-sex marriage. In January, 2013, Breitbart.com editor Adam Shapiro told me that “the conservative movement gave up the ghost long ago by failing to defend the sanctity of marriage.
“Conservatives allowed marriage to be redefined as a relationship of love between two people, rather than a relationship of love between two people consummated for the purpose of procreating and raising healthy children.
“When marriage ceased to be about children and became solely about the relations of the two people involved, the principle basis for marriage was redefined: love, commitment, and consent, but not child-rearing. That basis clearly allows for different forms of marriage.”
Talk of marriage’s societal influence brings us to the religious right, a large voting bloc dominated by fundamentalist Christians. For decades, it has enjoyed a stranglehold on GOP public policy.
Dave Nalle, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, says that “(w)here we do run into problems with the religious right is with those small but influential groups which believe that they should promote their beliefs by using government as an instrument to impose them on other people.
“They don’t understand that this is a terrible practice which can be turned against them and they use tactics which are essentially the same as the secular humanists from the left who are their greatest enemies. Ultimately I don’t see much future for this element in the Republican Party or even in mainstream politics.
“When they are fanatical about forcing their beliefs on everyone through legislation they make themselves so unpopular that they become a political liability which no party can afford to get involved with.
“The incident in the  election with extreme statements from Todd Akin demonstrates how damaging religious extremism can be to a party which needs to attract independents and moderates. Akin’s statements and similar ones from several other candidates cost us not only the seats they were running for, but spilled over and probably cost Republicans about 2 percent of their support nationwide, which did enormous damage.
“Whether libertarian or not, party leaders realize that we cannot afford to carry that kind of liability.”
Few issues provide the Republican brand with more liability than abortion rights. Many voters perceive hostility toward these rights as eroding women’s equality.
“I do think there is an inherent attack on women’s abilities to run their own lives,” former New Jersey Governor and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told me in 2012. “The Republican Party needs to speak to the issues that women care about — taxes, education, and health care. And the party needs to give more than lip service to female candidates — putting women up in places they can actually win, not just showing off a female candidate in a race she’s bound to lose.
“We as a party need to be cultivating our female candidates and giving them financial support when they choose to run.”
Theology-inspired crusades are pushed by politicos who emerge from heated primaries. These folks find a home for their extremism like no other when these primaries are closed to non-GOPers.
“It’ll be a problem as long as candidates win general elections running on extreme base issues,” Whitman explained. “What will stop it is when those more extreme candidates lose those elections after winning primaries running on the far-right issues. Those candidates are running on issues that are not key for the majority of the voting public.
“A few polls that came out right before the Obamacare Supreme Court decision came down gave a window into what voters care about — they were far more focused on jobs, taxes, and the economy than even the repeal of ‘Obamacare.’
“If health care isn’t the major concern, abortion and gay marriage are clearly only base issues — they appeal to a small, but extremely vocal minority.”
Social conservatism is ultimately a losing prospect. Last November, Chris Christie ran on a moderate platform that fell in line with New Jersey’s interests and won handily.
Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli, on the other hand, pursued an ideological agenda which included — among other things — instituting anti-sodomy laws, supporting legislation which would criminalize all abortions along with certain forms of birth control, and forsaking environmental conservation. All of this left a terrible impression on the Old Dominion’s mainstream, and he lost.
Regardless of our own opinions about the GOP’s path forward, one thing is clear: Social rightism will not dominate it. Difficult as this may be for some to accept, what other choice is there; a third party?
Ask John B. Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader or Gary Johnson about how that works out nationwide.