An article in the Detroit News today about "the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," posits the false dilemma that there is an ongoing struggle "pitting social and religious conservatives who unflinchingly tout an anti-abortion, anti-gay, family platform at the expense of most everything else, against the traditional fiscal conservatives and moderates who would rather focus on a smaller, less intrusive government that takes less from taxpayer wallets and finds ways to create jobs."
Why are these positions inconsistent with one another? Why can't we be anti-abortion and anti-tax? No reason. Can you favor traditional marriage and at the same time believe in smaller government? Of course you can. These are not mutually exclusive views. In fact, they are compatible, consistent, and extremely attractive to the average voter.
If Americans truly wanted pro-abortion, anti-family, fiscal liberals in office, why would the Democrats spend every waking minute of every campaign trying to persuade voters they are pro-family and believe in lower taxes and fiscal responsibility? They do so because they recognize, even if Republicans don't, that when one candidate is perceived as considerably more conservative than the other, the conservative wins; likewise, when the candidates are perceived as ideologically close, the Democrat tends to win.
In every Presidential election since 1968, the Republican has won when he was perceived as being significantly more conservative than the Democrat. Think about the elections won by Democrats -- Carter in 1976, Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and Obama in 2008 -- and think about their opponents. Gerald Ford was not considered particularly conservative, George H. W. Bush had squandered his huge popularity by breaking his "no new taxes" pledge, and John McCain seemed to go out of his way to avoid conflict with Obama.
Remember too that after McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, his campaign surged, and he led Obama in the polls until the financial crisis hit, which McCain then bungled beyond repair.
Now think about the elections won by Republicans during the same time frame -- Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, Bush 41 in 1988, and W in 2000 and 2004. In each case, the Republican was not only more conservative than the Democrat, but went out of his way to emphasize the ideological gap.
Here in Michigan, there is ample evidence of a socially conservative electorate. In 2006, Republican candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General received 42.3%, 56.2%, and 53.8% of the vote, respectively. That same year, Prop 2 on affirmative action was passed with 57.9% of the vote. In 2004, the marriage amendment passed with 58.6% of the vote.
These socially conservative proposals outpolled the Republican candidates, clearly demonstrating that there is a core conservatism among Michigan's electorate. Instead of rejecting this dimension as too narrow or divisive, we should be embracing it as a unifying force for our party.
Similarly, Gov. Tinkerbell and the Democrats in Lansing have shown us (again!) the extreme folly and disastrous consequences of tax-and-spend liberalism. Isn't that also a unifying force?
When people talk about Republican "outreach," exactly to whom are we reaching out? And how? By piecemeal "initiatives" designed to placate various constituencies? By ridiculous legislation focused on minutiae? By "moving to the center," which means nothing more than compromising our principles and values and becoming more liberal? These are prescriptions for electoral disaster. How many elections do we have to lose before we realize that being Democrat-lite will not work?
If we truly want to recover our balance and restore sanity to Lansing, we need a clear, forcefully articulated vision of life under a Republican government.
Ronald Reagan combined social and fiscal conservatism with a strong defense posture, and he did what the GOP needs to do now. He did not fall into the trap of trying to pass off a set of proposals as ideology. He created and persuasively described his vision of America, and he let the voters come to him and to the GOP, which they did in record numbers.
Social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are natural allies. Candidates who embrace both are destined for greatness. We cannot expect every Republican to be in lockstep on every single issue, but we can and should expect Republicans to share our core beliefs in individual freedom, personal responsibility, low taxes, small government, and the sanctity of innocent life.
The solution to the false dilemma is a positive vision. What exactly are we trying to accomplish for Michigan and her citizens? The candidates who best articulate such a vision will unite the party, end this talk of division, and lead us into the future.