Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Republican Factions: Need To Fix Their Message, Not Give In To Narrow Interests

Dave at Political Machine makes the case that Republicans need to unite all three wings of the party: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy conservatives - if they are to have a winning coalition.

Reagan did it, but in a much different way. Here's what's changed, and I think this is what people like Kathleen Parker are getting on about when they start criticizing the overly influential religious right.

In Reagan's day, the social conservatives were shock troops. But they didn't carry the party message. Reagan carried a party message that was a strong amalgam of fiscal conservatism and foreign policy conservatism (the former a response to '70's economic malaise, and the latter primarily being a response to Iran, and the Cold War).

What W. Bush has done is emboldened the social conservatives - so that they seem to be out front now, leading the message - while completely undermining the Republican's fiscal conservative brand (they may talk small government, but no one is convinced they know how to handle the economy any more). The war in Iraq also did a lot of damage to the strong foreign policy brand ("strong" got to be tied up with "stupid" and "irresponsible").

As Bill Clinton so wisely intuited, it's the economy, stupid. Voters are always going to lead with their pocketbooks, except possibly in a time of war, when foreign policy may weigh in. Social conservative values are never going to be the primary interests for anyone other than the small, 25% hard-right religious minority. And that minority is getting smaller over time.

Republicans may need to unite all three wings, but what they need to do first is rebuild their credibility on fiscal conservatism and foreign policy, before voters will trust them again. Right now, Obama is putting together a stellar team both in terms of the economy and foreign policy that will likely put the nail in that coffin for years.

If Obama can convince enough voters that he's also more in touch with social values than the shrill anti-gay, anti-science social conservatives roiling the Republicans, he'll have trumped the Republicans on all three messages.

If I were them, I wouldn't be trying to do again what lost this thing for them in 2008. I'd be scared about the political genius who just took over the White House, and trying to figure out how not to get outflanked by him on all three of their message coalitions.

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