Doug Mataconis praises Mitch Daniels’ “social truce” idea once again:
More than a year ago, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels argued that the party needed to declare a truce on social issues and focus on the economy, the national debt, and bringing the nation’s fiscal situation under control. While there were many political observers, including many Republicans, who applauded Daniels’s comments and hoped they would lead to a Presidential run, there were similar numbers of people who condemned him for it. As it turns out, Daniels was right.
The farther away we get from Daniels’ original suggestion in 2010, the less clearly his suggestion is understood. Many of the people who applauded and denounced his “truce” proposal never really understood, and used it to validate their own preoccupations. Social conservatives saw it as evidence of a forthcoming betrayal, and moderate Republicans saw it as an indication that Daniels was catering to their indifference to social issues. Both groups were wrong. As I said back in April of this year:
Daniels wasn’t just floating the “truce” idea as a trial balloon for the Daniels 2012 campaign that never happened. He was stating that the fiscal and economic situation in the future would require the President, whether Obama or a Republican, to ignore the “so-called social issues” in favor of agreeing to “get along for a little while.” Does that resemble anything like the political reality we have witnessed for the last two years? No, it doesn’t. Why we would expect that a Republican victory or Obama’s re-election would usher in a new bipartisan era of fiscal responsibility and healthy economic growth after the last two years is beyond me.
Another point I made in that post is that partisan disagreements over economic and fiscal policies are just as strong as disagreements over social issues, so declaring a “truce” on one set of issues wouldn’t make agreement on the others more likely. Imagine if someone said that the way to reform immigration policy was to call a “truce” on foreign policy arguments. The idea would be laughed out of the room as irrelevant. It’s not as if Democrats are opposed to Ryan’s Medicare reform because they object to his views on abortion or marriage. De-emphasizing social issues won’t make entitlement reform happen any sooner.
Daniels’ theory was that economic and fiscal problems were so severe that culture war issues would have to be set aside in the interim, regardless of who was in the White House starting in 2013. Everything we have seen lately suggests that Daniels badly misread the political landscape. While he was frequently misunderstood on this point, Daniels wasn’t proposing that the GOP pay less attention to social issues or become less culturally conservative. He was claiming that the country as a whole would have to call the so-called “truce” on these issues, which meant that he thought both parties would have to de-emphasize them.
When he first made the proposal, it seemed unnecessary because social issues had mostly been in the background for several years. Since Daniels proposed the “truce,” both parties have made a point of emphasizing them far more in this election cycle than in 2008. If Daniels’ “truce” seemed redundant in 2010, it seems implausible today. In order for Daniels to be proved right about his “truce,” culture war issues will have to fade into the background after the next Inauguration Day in January. I see no reason why we should expect that to happen. I suppose it’s possible that Daniels’ “truce” idea might yet be vindicated after the election, but it is so poorly understood and so frequently misrepresented that we might not recognize it when it happens.
P.S. It can’t be stressed enough that Daniels was not talking about how the GOP should be campaigning in the 2012 cycle or in future elections. He was using the “truce” idea to convey how dire he believed the country’s fiscal woes were. It was not a recommendation to adapt to a changing electorate, which wasn’t what concerned Daniels at all. He was saying that debt and entitlements had to take priority over everything else during the next administration.