In any political struggle, there’s going to be extremes. Most people lie somewhere in the middle between two viewpoints on any given issue. Electoral success can generally be determined by how well you manipulate that vast middle into supporting your position, or at the least not getting too enthusiastic about opposing you. This is something folks in the conservative movement need accept if they want to start winning elections.
What success gun rights have enjoyed has been achieved by fielding large numbers of single-issue voters, while simultaneously not motivating the vast middle to do much of anything in opposition. Whether this is because they share vague agreement or tepid disagreement is of little consequence; the point is we offer an upside to politicians for agreeing with us that has very little downside. We certainly face extremists in the gun control movement, but in terms of numbers, the passion is on our side of the issue, and anyone who is honest about it will acknowledge that.
Now lets bring in in the “War on Women.” The “War on Women” is largely a dog whistle from the left to the vast middle about control of reproductive choices. The calculation is that they are closer to the center of the issue than social conservatives, and they can sway the middle on this kind of rhetoric. The message is that the evil Republicans don’t want you to have any reproductive choices, while Democrats are all for whatever floats your boat. What concerns me about the “War on Women,” is even Bloomberg is jumping on that bandwagon (article highlighted in yesterday’s post). The question a lot of socially conservative voters need to ask themselves is why this is a winning formula lately. I think it’s a winning formula because reproductive choice is an issue that sways the middle in favor of the left.
The middle has shifted on a lot of social conservative issues. I don’t think this means social conservatives need to accept the radical pro-choice position of Democrats on this issue, but they do need to accept that abortion being either legal or illegal in all circumstances is a minority position and work within that framework. Coming out and saying abortion is wrong in cases of rape or incest is an extreme position. It’s like arguing that we ought to completely deregulate machine guns, or stand firm on gun rights for bank robbers. You can come up with beautifully constructed moral and ideological frameworks for why this ought to beÂ truth, but that truth has exactly jack to do with winning elections, and winning elections is in the only way you get to set policy in a republican system of government. In most cases, a viable candidate is only going to carry some of your ideology. If you’re very lucky, he or she will successfully carry a lot of it, and how much of that they can carry depends on factors hardly related to your moral, ideological, or philosophical, views. It’s much more related to likability, marketability, and an ability to break down complex and difficult topics into soundbites that appeal to the instincts of people who barely pay attention.
Four years ago a fairly strong pro-gun social conservative, Bob McDonnell, handily defeated a moderate Democrat, Creigh Deeds to win a four year term as Governor of Virginia. Today, a very strong pro-gun, social conservative, Ken Cuccinelli, is looking likely to lose to a very strong anti-gun progressive, with numerous skeletons in his closet. The Democrats are playing straight from the “War on Women” playbook, and they are winning. Even Bloomberg is joining that bandwagon because he knows gun control won’t motivate anybody. That’s saying something. Whether we who oppose the left want to listen or not is another matter, but it bears directly on whether we’re going to start winning the important elections again. Social conservatives don’t need to give up all their issues, but it’s high time they started thinking about the same tradeoffs other issues have had to deal with in order to actually win.