As we approach the 2013 elections on Tuesday, the American Principles Project has put together a report on the lessons of the 2012 election, which serves, in part, as a critique of the Republican National Committee’s own autopsy report on Mitt Romney’s loss. Maggie Gallagher, senior fellow at APP, talks with National Review Online about elections past and present and this autopsy of the autopsy.
KJL: “Truce” talk is compelling because everyone wants peace. What’s your alternative?
GALLAGHER: Gentlemen cry “peace, peace” but a unilateral truce is not peace. It is simply retreat in the face of the pro-abortion Democrats’ argument. Virginia is a model for the Left’s War on Women strategy, and the question there is: Who is the abortion extremist in the race? Let’s answer that question by defining Terry McAuliffe’s never-met-an-abortion-I-can’t-get-government-to-pay-for strategy as the real extremism in the race.
KJL: How do the life issues “help win elections” for Republicans?
GALLAGHER: The number of soft Democrats, or ethnic new Americans, like Latinos, who support Reaganomics is far less than the number of voters who are traditionally conservative on social values. Why rob banks? That’s where the money is. Why use the social issues? Well, the most important reason is that they are an important part of rebuilding a vigorous, healthy America. But it’s also where the votes are.
KJL: But if that were really true, wouldn’t so many Democrats who switched from being against abortion to “pro-choice” switch back?
GALLAGHER: Well, yes maybe if we made it an issue. If we don’t, they satisfy their base by becoming abortion extremists
KJL: Isn’t the politics of marriage much harder, though? Why should anyone bother beyond trying to carve out some religious-liberty protection?
GALLAGHER: No, it’s not harder. Romney ran behind marriage in the four blue states that supported it by between four and 21 points. If “no” to gay marriage beat “yes” to Romney, by what logic is support for gay marriage responsible for GOP defeat? The biggest problem in the 2012 election is that Obama’s full-throated support for gay marriage was met by deafening silence by the GOP candidate. When only one side makes a big case, the mushy middle is going to fold.
The larger lesson from the life issue is that the prediction of, say, 1975, that young people would always support abortion rights has not played out. There is no reason to believe marriage could not follow a similar political profile — unless we give up, in which case we give up.
KJL: Mitt Romney understood current threats to religious freedom – you wrote about that when he was governor of Massachusetts — and he had the best articulation, in my opinion, of what the HHS mandate fight is about in one campaign stop in Ohio. Is it a fundamental confidence problem that keeps Republicans from running on these issues?
GALLAGHER: The truce strategy is a political strategy: It says the way for our us to win is to mute our voices. Abandoning all social issues isn’t the official position because it is self-evidently ridiculous to abandon the base of the party. So the truce strategy is a political response to the reality that “mushy middle” voters are “mushy middle voters.” We are arguing it’s a disastrous response. The best way to appeal to mush middle voters is to make strong, principled arguments attacking the Left for their pro-abortion extremism.
KJL: How can conservatives better articulate how conservative policy can better the lives of the poor? Is this “the empathy gap” the report mentions?
GALLAGHER: Elections are won and lost on whether your message resonates with the broad middle class. Policies that benefit the broad middle class (including the working class) are best for the poor, too, who need an economy that privileges opportunity.
KJL: What does a “confident, integrated conservatism” ultimately look like?
GALLAGHER: It means we need to recognize that conservatism is not really divided between social and economic issues; our biggest divide is with the Left. Fostering strong families and a respect for life, religion, and traditional values, go hand in hand with creating an opportunity society for the middle class. We need to help the poor, in the same ways also, because they pay the biggest price for a pro-government liberalism that privileges numerical equality over substantive opportunity, and of course poor children are the most likely to be killed in the womb and the most likely to grow up without committed fathers in marriage.