According to Kenneth P. Vogel at the website Politico, the future of the Republican Party will be determined by a struggle between two major groups of donors: those on the west and east coasts versus those in mid-country. The coastal donors are moderate to liberal on social issues, in contrast with the social conservatism of those from the remainder of the country. Per Vogel, “…social issues like gay marriage and abortion have been largely relegated to the sidelines as the business wing of the GOP establishment wages a bitter and expensive struggle against the Tea party for the soul of the Republican Party.”
Vogel reports that “…some of the religious right’s wealthiest backers and top operatives” met this winter at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Washington suburb of Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, to “plot their entry into the conservative civil war” by re-establishing social issues in the political dialogue.
With this effort the group is defying the Republican National Committee, which in a post-2012 presidential election report argued that, “When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming.”
Karl Rove, usually considered an arch-conservative, appeared to agree with the RNC perspective on ABC’s “This Week” in March of last year. When Rove was asked, “Can you imagine in the next presidential campaign, a Republican candidate saying flat out I am for gay marriage?” he responded, “I can.”
The coastal “donor class,” including Rove and the “megadonor” Koch brothers, are judged too “squishy” on social issues by those at the Ritz summit. The summit was organized by the Conservative Action Project, and funded by the Council on National Policy, which helped keep afloat social conservative Rick Santorum’s unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential candidacy last fall. The summit chair was former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, known among other things for his opposition to the Miranda Warning and his support of harsh measures such as asset forfeiture in the War on Drugs.
Groups in attendance included Gary Bauer’s American Values, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Family Research Council as well as single-issue groups Americans United for Life and the National Organization for Marriage. Per Vogel, such groups “combined to pull in at least $280 million in 2011 and 2012, according to publicly available tax and campaign filings,” although most of this money was channeled to “groups focused on providing services and “issue education” to like-minded conservatives,” rather than political campaigns. Gary Bauer explains: “There are enough people out there that are pro-life and pro-family that have the resources to fund political efforts on those issues, and for a variety of reasons they just haven’t stepped up and so we have to do a better job of getting them to step up.”
The RNC does not have much choice in its response, if it wants a viable party coming out of this struggle. A party that is not united risks losing votes on both sides of an issue. Both opponents and advocates of gay marriage, for instance, are likely to be turned off by the GOP if major figures within the party take opposite sides. Even independents disenchanted with the Democratic Party, a critical group for Republicans’ electoral prospects, would be reluctant to vote GOP while the lines are so muddled.
The RNC should study how the Democrats found a way out of their collapse in Reagan’s era. If successful now for the GOP, it would also be beneficial for libertarians.
A memoir by longtime Democratic operative Al From, “The New Democrats and the Return to Power,” tells the story of From’s role in creating the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) which saved the Democratic Party from collapse after Walter Mondale lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. The strategy involved a turn to the right, evinced by President Clinton1 when as president, to the consternation of many in his liberal base, he made conservative reforms to welfare and pursued free-trade policies.
The GOP has reached a stage today in which its future existence as a party is as uncertain as was the Democrats’ when the DLC stepped in. A lively debate on the GOP platform has developed, but the party has not yet faced the heart of the DLC’s successful tactics.
To solidify a new definition of “Democrat,” the DLC picked public fights over welfare reform with prominent liberals, in particular with Rev. Jesse Jackson, who called the DLC “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” Such “high-octane collisions”2 gave definition to the Democratic Party and confidence to new right-of-center Democratic voters that they were supporting the right party.
If not by the mid-term elections then at least by the 2016 presidential race, the GOP will need to generate some “high octane collisions” with the forces for social conservatism represented at the Ritz summit. The party may not be ready for a new platform on abortion, given that the country is consistently evenly divided on the issue. But given recent poll numbers, gay marriage is ripe for the picking. Support for same-sex couples’ right to marry has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, and is overwhelming among younger voters. If it wants to make a comeback the way the Democrats did with Clinton, the GOP needs to define itself by making clear, as a party, what it supports and what it does not.
Some libertarians are likely skeptical of the efforts of some of the “donor class.” The 2012 Libertarian nominee for vice-president Jim Gray wrote that no corporation should be able to make any political campaign contributions.3 Libertarians may not favor rule by donors, mega- or otherwise, but neither does a libertarian favor rule by the state over who marries whom. The best outcome for libertarians would be victory of the coastal donors.
1. Clinton was himself chair of the DLC while serving as governor of Arkansas.
2. See Ronald Brownstein’s op-ed in the L.A. Times, “Are Democrats complacent?” 6 December 2013.
3. Judge James P. Gray, ret., A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems (Santa Ana, CA: The Forum Press, 2010,) 4. Many libertarians may disagree with Judge Gray, however.
Doug Lasken is a retired teacher for the LA Unified school district, recently returned to coach debate, as well as a freelance writer and education consultant. Read his blog at http://laskenlog.blogspot.com/ and write him at [email protected].
Image credit to Nick Anderson / pinterest.com.