Christine Todd Whitman and Robert Bostock argue that the Republican Party cannot win back the middle as long as it remains hostage to the social fundamentalists. They provide a reality check to all the conservatives who claim that the Republicans lost because they are not conservative enough, looking at all the states which went from Bush to Obama:
McCain didn’t lose those states because he failed to hold the base. He lost them because Obama broadened his base.
Nor did the Republican ticket lose because “values voters” stayed home. On the contrary, according to exit polls, such voters made up a larger proportion of the electorate this year than in 2004 — 26 percent, up from 23 percent. Extrapolating from those data, McCain actually won more votes from self-identified white evangelical/born-again voters than Bush did four years ago — 1.8 million more. But that was not enough to offset the loss of so many moderates.
Following the conventional wisdom of the past two presidential elections, McCain tried mightily to assuage the Republican Party’s social-fundamentalist wing. His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose social views are entirely aligned with that wing, as his running mate was clearly meant to demonstrate his commitment to that bloc. Yet while his choice did comfort those voters, it made many others uncomfortable.
Palin has many attractive qualities as a candidate. Being prepared to become president at a moment’s notice was not obviously among them this year. Her selection cost the ticket support among those moderate voters who saw it as a cynical sop to social fundamentalists, reinforcing the impression that they control the party, with the party’s consent.
In the wake of the Democrats’ landslide victory, and despite all evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP are arguing that John McCain was defeated because the social fundamentalists wouldn’t support him. They seem to be suffering from a political strain of Stockholm syndrome. They are identifying with the interests of their political captors and ignoring the views of the larger electorate. This has cost the Republican Party the votes of millions of people who don’t find a willingness to acquiesce to hostage-takers a positive trait in potential leaders.
Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness. On Nov. 4, the American people very clearly rejected the politics of demonization and division. It’s long past time for the GOP to do the same.
The social conservatives do provide energy and money to the Republican ticket, leading some to believe their support is of benefit. Before the Bush years the Republicans would seek their support while laughing at them behind their backs, and then attempt to ignore the social conservatives once in office. By so visibly merging the Republican Party with the fundamentalists, the entire party is now laughed at in much the same way as Republican leaders previously laughed at the religious right. Educated voters were far more scared of a party which panders to creationists and threatens to bring back shirt hanger abortions than they were afraid of claims that Obama will redistribute wealth or that he palls around with terrorists.