The Corner

The Trouble with Social Conservatives

Back a while ago, when I was complaining about Republicans who think the GOP has just too darn many religious voters (“funny, so do the Democrats”), I promised I would explain how social conservatives have contributed to this misimpression — and also to their oddly subordinated role within the GOP governing coalition.

It’s simple. Social conservatives have had bad models for political action. We’ve depended on two basic strategies, and neither of them work very well:

1. The Mass-Uprising Model. “The people will rise up and throw off their oppressors spontaneously.” Well, it’s nice when it happens, but it’s hardly a plan, is it?

2. The Secular-Messiah Model: Join with others in the GOP to elect a godly man to office and then expect him to solve all your problems for you. This last model resulted in me fielding calls from reporters about whether or not I thought Bush was responsible for failing to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment — at a time when the poor man was 33 percent in the polls. Gay-rights groups don’t behave like this. They understand it’s their job to make it easy for politicians to do what they ask, not the other way around.

Social conservatives simply have not been in politics. We lack institutions that can defeat our enemies and directly assist our friends.

After a while, threatening to leave the coalition unless the coalition does what you want gets old. And tiring. And ineffective. It makes your allies not like you very much. Social conservatives talk like that because it’s our one lever of power. 

Time to get some new levers.

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