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Will Values Voters Turn out for Romney-Ryan?

I wonder whether Mitt Romney has failed to learn Karl Rove’s lesson. Rove ascribed George W. Bush’s defeat in the 2000 popular vote to under-motivation on the part of evangelicals and the religious right generally. Rove made up for that in 2004, heavily targeting churches in Bush’s re-election effort. That was the year of the “values voter [1].”

Paul Ryan checks the appropriate social-right boxes, but I wonder if his intensity is sufficient to mobilize the culture warriors — much as Robert Zoellick, ready though he may have been to sign onto Project for a New American Century regime-change manifestos, is insufficiently intense [2] for neocon hawks. (Indeed, while Ryan is the golden boy of the neoconservatives [3] for now, I suspect they quietly have doubts about him: not that he’s a crypto-realist, but clearly his primary interest is in domestic technocracy, not in foreign crusading.) If Romney loses, as I expect he will, the narrative for much of the right will be that Romney-Ryan was not “conservative” enough: not warlike enough on culture or foreign fronts to draw the bright moral lines that would supposedly lead to Reagan-like landslides.

The neoconservatives have no voters; they’re all chiefs and no braves. The religious right supplies the braves, and while the values voters may be demographically doomed — Ron Paul, of course, was the pick of the rising generation — for now they’re still the GOP’s electoral muscle. Just look at the past two cycles, where religious-right candidates wholly unacceptable to the party’s pragmatists, Huckabee and Santorum, generated enough grassroots enthusiasm to take silver (or close to it) in the presidential primaries. Palin was an awful VP nominee, but the logic behind choosing someone like her was sound. What does a Santorum or Huck voter get from Romney-Ryan beyond lip service?

Already Romney has a problem on the social right: a Santorum supporter connected to the religious-right Council for National Policy has been urging a Dump Romney campaign [4]. That may be quixotic, but it suggests Romney has failed to secure this flank. Whether any leading veep contender other than Ryan would have helped is an open question — I don’t think Pawlenty had much visceral appeal to the religious right, despite all the chatter about how he was supposed to be their kind of thing.

The fault line within the GOP between religious voters and economic voters is often exaggerated: the two groups are mostly the same, just as the Tea Party is in many respects the religious right in anti-government drag [5]. But there are serious cracks in the coalition along attitudinal and professional lines: the religious right has been unable in the quarter century since Pat Robertson’s run to produce a viable national leader, one credible enough to anyone outside the base even to serve as VP, let alone the presidential nominee. The rest of the party, meanwhile, whatever’s left of it, has to keep religious voters riled up while also keeping them sufficiently docile to accept nominees like McCain and Romney and trying to reach across to independent voters who are appalled by the religious right’s temper even more than by its issue positions. This is a very difficult balancing act at the national level. (At the congressional and state level, it’s somewhat easier since districts and states tend to be more culturally uniform than the country as a whole — also because, perversely, the most polarizing cultural issues are considered national rather than state and local matters.)

Ryan’s a more exciting pick than the others Romney was contemplating, but this does feel, as Noah Millman says, like Dole-Kemp redux [6], even if Romney and Ryan are sprier than their 1996 analogues were. Whatever else one might say about the lackluster ’96 ticket, at least the nominees seemed sober and capable. In trying to be something they’re not — passionate hawks and culture warriors — Romney and Ryan risk one kind of failure, but if they don’t put up the pretense, a fraction of the base (small, but significant in a close election) will sleep through the campaign. Successfully resolving these tensions would take leadership and courage of the kind the GOP hasn’t demonstrated since Goldwater and Reagan. So don’t bet it, or on this ticket.

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#1 Comment By Tom Piatak On August 12, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

Of course social conservatives will support Romney and Ryan with enthusiasm. The alternative is Barack Obama, who 1) has, for the first time in history, sought to use the federal government to tell mainstream Christian bodies how to govern themselves, 2) supports abortion wholeheartedly, 3) has refused to support the Defense of Marriage Act in court, and 4) has now thrown the full weight of the Democratic Party behind gay “marriage.”

Any social conservative who sits this election out is not really much of a social conservative.

#2 Comment By Charlieford On August 12, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

Ignoring a lot that’s questionable about Tom’s comment, I find it fascinating that all the reasons for “social conservatives” supporting Romney have to do with . . . the alternative. The sad and frustrating story of the Christian Right . . .

#3 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On August 12, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

The things to consider at the margin are a.) how plausible are Romney and Ryan as spokesmen for values voters on these issues? and b.) to what extent are values voters more identity-driven than issues-driven, and will the Mormon-Catholic ticket give them the cultural representation they crave?

#4 Comment By Charlieford On August 12, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

Canary in the coal mine?

Ted “Nugent said Romney missed an ideal opportunity by refusing to come out strongly in support of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy in his opposition to gay marriage. It would have been “a perfect opportunity to make a bold statement, ‘This is who I support.’” he said.

“I’m anticipating that to be made real soon, especially when you’ve got the crazy strategies of the Harry Reid puppets of Barack Obama making these obnoxious, false accusations about Mitt Romney’s taxes.”

Nugent, an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, said he never eats chicken, seeing such a meal “an admission of failure” but the Chick-fil-A issue has become a battle over First Amendment rights, he said.

“I have been prodding, as everyone I know . . . as politely as we can, ‘Mitt turn up the heat!’ Make bolder definitive statements on these critical issues,” Nugent said. “Chick-fil-A . . . was indeed a critical moment and statement to be made. Yes, I believe he should have stepped forward.

“The conservative movement has been mushy for far too long,” he admonished. “We’ve got to get more aggressive. We’ve got to get to spotlight the cockroach that much more . . .”

[7]

#5 Comment By midtown On August 12, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

I think values voters will turn out for Romney reluctantly, because as Tom said, the alternative is so non-viable to them this time around.

Of course, the real question is what will happen in the swing states. If Ryan can pull Wisconsin over to the R side, that can be a big deal.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 12, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

How endless foreign wars of choice has become a “value” to those motivated by traditional Christian moral concerns is beyond my ken. It is hardly moral under specious might-makes-right self-justifying authority to be joysticking “reaper” and “hellfire” predator assassination drones from afar in places that are not actual battlefields – and in no way could any of it be called “pro-life” except in the most Orwellian, soviet-style of language damaging doublespeak.

#7 Comment By jmz On August 13, 2012 @ 12:05 am

Thank you for the thoughtful article.

Sites such as catholicvote.org, which have pushed a strong values voter agenda, are very ambivalent about Romney. In my opinion, Romney’s weak pro-life cred is hurting him badly in the devout Catholic community. There’s no way he can go back on his pro-choice decisions as the governor of Mass., so Romney will have to simply home that anger against Obama is enough to bring devout Catholics to vote for him. Maybe Romney chose Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic with impeccable pro-life credentials, for devout Catholic GOTV.

It’s important to remember, though, that only a minority of America’s 70 million or so Catholics are one-issue, pro-life voters. Catholics in general are far from a monolithic voting bloc.

#8 Comment By William Dalton On August 13, 2012 @ 1:00 am

Romney and Ryan trying to win votes by pretending to be something they’re not? If the GOP wants candidates genuine and determined, they will select Ron Paul, a true spending hawk, and Pat Buchanan, the original “culture warrior”. They may be older than what is on offer, but they have energy that makes them as spry if not moreso. And what other team will allow the GOP to reconcile the two seemingly disparate factions they need to win now and in the future – young voters and social conservatives?

#9 Comment By Steve Berg On August 13, 2012 @ 11:54 am

To my mind, the biggest challenge facing the Romney-Ryan ticket is to differentiate themselves from the alternative.

Thanks to the research capabilities provided by the Internet, we know that Obama-Care is largely based on Romney-Care, and that the Governor strongly supported and signed gun control and so-called “assault weapon” banning legislation there in Marxachusetts.

And, Congressman Ryan has voted in favor or TARP, the Stimulus Package, making permanent the so-called “Patriot Act” among other dubious pieces of legislation put before him. We know that his voting record is almost identical to Barack Obama’s record in the Senate, and the other bills Ryan voted for were signed by President Obama with a flourish.

So, unless the Republicans can show that they are seriously different from their Democratic “opponents” I have the choice in November of either writing in Ron Paul, or Pat Buchanan for president. Either way, my conscience is clear. Since the Republicans keep running statist liberals, so far as I am concerned they can go the way of the Anti-Masonic Party into the dustbin of history. As is stands, the country is shafted with the election of either ticket.

#10 Pingback By The Paul Ryan pick is already working. Now Romney v Obama is about philosophy, not personality – Telegraph Blogs On August 14, 2012 @ 5:07 am

[…] to a more substantial issue with Ryan: is he understood as a conservative beyond fiscal issues? Daniel McCarthy fears not (“Ryan checks the appropriate social-right boxes, but I wonder if his intensity is sufficient to […]