Dick Morris is an extremely smart guy who has forgotten more about politics than most people have ever learned, but respectfully, I believe that he has a bad habit of letting his own personal agenda and beliefs warp what should be impartial judgments about the political landscape. His latest column is a classic example of this,
The coalition Ronald Reagan assembled of fiscal and economic conservatives, evangelicals, and national-security advocates has always been dominated by the social issues at the grassroots level. While free-market economic conservatives lived in New York and dutifully attended their Club for Growth meetings and national-security types inhabited Washington, the Republican social conservatives dominated the grassroots of the party. They alone could turn out the numbers to rallies and to the polls on primary or Election Day.
Now, all that has changed. It is the fiscal conservatives and free-market supporters who own the Republican streets. Through the Tea Party, they have come to dominate the grassroots of the GOP. It is as if an invisible primary were held for supremacy at the grassroots and the Tea Party won.
…Along with this change has come a shift in what it takes to turn the litmus paper red enough to win Republican primaries. It used to be that abortion, gun control, and gay marriage were the hot-button issues, and anyone straying from orthodoxy was targeted in the primary and handicapped in the general election by a lackluster turnout. Now, a candidate’s social positions rarely even come up. It is fiscal and economic purity that rules the day. Anyone who voted for cap-and-trade is targeted in the primary. And there is no place for a candidate who ever backed a tax increase. Every candidate has to sign the no-tax pledge that Grover Norquist formulated for Americans for Tax Reform.
Where Republican politicians were once terrified to move to the left on social issues, they are now more frightened of retribution for departures from fiscal orthodoxy. The once-elitist demands of the Club for Growth are now echoed throughout America by the surging Tea Party movement.
…This shift in Republican priorities is opening up the way for social moderates and libertarians to back Republican candidates in the 2010 elections. The libertarian strain in the American electorate has long been neglected by the mainstream media. But, through the Tea Party, it has gained ascendancy on the right. Those who want the government to stay out of both boardrooms and bedrooms have come to dominate the party and its nominating process.
Ironically, this change in the Republican grassroots has come at a time when abortion is falling into disrepute and larger numbers of Americans report themselves as being pro-life. This swing of voter sentiment might reflect the growth of the evangelical community of believers or simply the aging of the baby-boomer population. But even as the right to lifers move toward a national majority, their clout at the grassroots level of the Republican party is waning.
That analysis rests on three fundamentally flawed pillars.
The first is that temporary trends represent long-term shifts. In every election, there are different big issues that move to the forefront. This time around, because of the sheer socialist insanity of the Obama administration, those issues happen to be fiscal. Given the state of America’s finances, it’s entirely possible that fiscal issues are going to be taking on great importance in American politics for a long time (I certainly hope that’s the case). However, assuming that the issues that are hot or cold today will remain so evermore is a really, really bad bet.
Secondly, there seems to be an assumption — one that’s made by many people actually — that social conservatives and fiscal conservatives are entirely different animals. Although there are some Libertarians who fit that fiscally conservative, socially liberal description, overwhelmingly what you find is that fiscal conservatives are socially conservative and vice-versa. So, yes, the Tea Parties are mostly about fiscal issues, not social issues. However, if you think that the Tea Partiers don’t care about social issues at all, just because they’re fired up about fiscal issues right now, you’re making a big mistake.
Last but not least, it may be fair to say that fiscal conservatism is playing a bigger role than social conservatism this year, but that doesn’t mean social conservatism is unimportant. Ever so often, you run into Republicans who conclude social conservatism doesn’t matter any more and they always seem surprised by the size of the buzzsaw that hits them.
For example, in his column Morris points to Huckabee’s failure in the 2008 primaries as evidence that social conservatism isn’t the same sort of draw that it used to be. I’d note that you could just as easily point to the utter failure of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign as evidence of how important social conservatism is to the base.
Even if you set aside the fact that conservatives make up a majority in the Republican Party and most of those conservatives could fairly be called socially conservative, the grand dream some Libertarian Republicans have of dumping social conservatism from the GOP isn’t feasible. There just aren’t enough replacement votes to do it. You can take the Reason crowd, multiply them 10 times over, and guess what? They still don’t come close to making up for all the voters that social conservatives represent. So, even if we got them all (and good luck getting that many Libertarians to agree on anything), it wouldn’t even come close to being enough.
So what it all comes down to is that like it or not, social conservatism and fiscal conservatism are married in this country and if they get divorced, the Republican Party will lose its house.
PS: To be completely fair to Morris, he didn’t come right out and say social issues are no longer important to conservatives, but certainly that seems to be the implication of the column.