Molly Ball reports on the conservative mood at an event hosted by the American Principles Project:
“2012 was the exact opposite of the kind of the election we at the American Principles Project think the Republican Party and the conservative movement need to run,” said Frank Cannon, the group’s president. It was an election, he explained, in which Republicans accepted the notion of a “truce” on social issues and spent $1 billion single-mindedly trying to convince people they would be better stewards of the economy.
“We decided not to fight for religious liberty, not to fight for traditional marriage, not to fight for unborn children in America,” he added. “And it was an abysmal failure.”
As Rod observes, this is hard to take seriously. It’s true that Romney and Ryan paid remarkably little attention to social issues during their campaign, but the reality is that this didn’t seem to discourage social conservatives in the least. Evangelicals turned out at record levels and rallied to the Republican ticket as they rarely have before. Romney and Ryan could afford to ignore their issues as much as they did because these voters were already so mobilized against Obama that paying more attention to them would have been redundant. Social conservatives convinced themselves to support Romney and Ryan in spite of the candidates’ relative neglect of their priorities.
However, while social issues did not receive a lot of attention from the presidential ticket, it is also hard to credit the idea that Romney and Ryan embraced a “social truce” during their campaign. Cannon’s complaint is just the reversal of the standard post-election effort to pin Republican losses on social conservatives. Romney didn’t lose because of social conservative positions, but it’s difficult to imagine how “fighting” more on these issues would have produced a victory. If the economy and employment were the dominant issues in the election, the fatal flaw of the Romney campaign was that it had very little to say on these subjects that was meaningful or relevant to the electorate. One cannot run a campaign on economic issues and then present the voters with nothing more than recycled Republican boilerplate on taxes, regulation, and trade.