Culture Wars and the Presidential Election

Ever since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, the Republican Party — now a very right-wing enterprise, indeed — has enjoyed remarkably good fortune consolidating its power in legislatures and governor’s mansions across the country. But as the presidential election approaches, writes Michael Cooper in the New York Times, G.O.P. strategists have begun to fret over chickens coming home to roost on the White House lawn.

In 21 states, Cooper reports, Republicans control both the legislative and executive branches, and that has led to an avalanche of controversies over issues ranging from evolution to the definition of rape to mandatory invasive ultrasounds for women seeking abortions — not to mention union rights for public employees. While these issues may galvanize the G.O.P.’s right-wing base, they’re likely to alienate the swing voters Mitt Romney will need in order to win the presidency. As described in the Times:

Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach about abstinence instead of contraception.


John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Senator John McCain and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., said that the attention Republicans were paying to social issues at the state level could cost the party support from several important blocs of voters, including independents, women and young people voting for the first or second time.

“I think it’s problematic,” he said, “not just for this national election we’re facing, but for the long-term health of the party.”

But right wing leaders don’t seem particularly invested in winning the presidency — at least not in 2012. Mitt Romney is not their candidate, and Barack Obama is the perfect fundraising and umbrage-inducing foil for right-wing fundraising and base-building for a wide-open contest in 2016. Incumbents, even wounded ones, are notoriously difficult to defeat. Why waste the effort on a guy you don’t really want, when the real work of moving the entire party your way takes place at the state level?

The Times piece notes Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ call for “a truce” on so-called social issues, and his advice for Republicans to focus solely on fiscal issues. But right-wing strategist Phyllis Schlafly, at a lecture she delivered this week in Washington, scoffed at Daniels’ suggestion:

Now, that is impossible to do, because social issues and fiscal issues are locked in a tight embrace. If you care about the big spending and the big debt that the Obama administration has racked up, you have to ask, what is the money being spent on? And it’s being spent on the social issues. So there’s no way to cut this big debt and this big spending unless we address the social issues.

For more on Schlafly’s appearance at George Washington University on Wednesday, see Peter Montgomery’s post at Right Wing Watch. And I’ll have more on Schlafly and the 40-year Republican war on women at AlterNet tomorrow.