Shortly after Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan ruefully observed: “Whenever Republicans lose an election, a factional dispute arises about ‘economic issues’ versus ‘moral or social issues.’ ‘Traditionalists’ and ‘libertarians’ blame each other, each claiming Republicans would do better without the other.”
Now some libertarians are back at it again, blaming the Republicans’ defeat in last year’s presidential election on the majority of social conservatives in the Republican Party who steadfastly uphold the natural family and the sanctity of human life. For example, in a column published in the Wall Street Journal three days after the election, Sarah Westwood, a freshman at George Washington University, insisted: “If Republicans hope to win in 2016 and beyond, they need to change everything about the way they sell themselves. They’re viewed by the 18-24 set as the ‘party of the rich’ and as social bigots.”
In a similar post-election column, Bret Stephens, a deputy editorial page editor and columnist for the Journal, suggested that Republicans will continue to go down to defeat if they persistently oppose “gay marriage” and refuse to adopt a “truce” on other social issues, including abortion.
In essence, Westwood, Stephens and other like-minded libertarians still insist that the Republican Party would be better off without social conservatives. Ryan no less persistently disagrees. Mindful of how Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, father and son, won the presidency by leading a Republican coalition of social conservatives and free-market libertarians, he now submits: “Why anyone would think a minority party can grow into a majority by splitting itself in half is a political and a mathematical mystery to me.”
On one point, Ryan agrees with Westwood: Republicans cannot hope to regain the presidency so long as many voters, both young and old, harbour the widespread misperception that Republicans care only for the rich. In a post-election speech on Dec. 4, Ryan observed. “We have a compassionate vision based on ideas that work – but sometimes we don’t do a good job of laying out that vision. We need to do better.”
The same goes for Conservatives in Canada. To consolidate their existing support and make gains on the federal and provincial level, they, too, must do a better job of explaining to voters that conservative social, economic, and fiscal policies can succeed, where the profligacy of Liberals and New Democrats invariably fails, in boosting economic growth, increasing productive employment, combating poverty, and reducing the evils of welfare dependency.
Conservative leaders in Canada would also do well to recognize that they cannot hope to win or retain office without the support of a broad coalition of libertarians and social conservatives. As it is, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has time and again abandoned and betrayed his erstwhile pro-life supporters over the past six years. On Sept. 26, he went so far as to vote against the eminently moderate motion by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth that called for a special committee of the House to review the long-outdated and scientifically absurd provision in section 233 of the Criminal Code that: “A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
In taking this extreme stance, Harper demonstrated that he is out of touch with the majority of his own caucus. No fewer than 87 Conservatives, and ten members of his cabinet, including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino, and Minister for Public Works and Status of Women Rona Ambrose, supported Woodworth’s sensible motion.
John Ivison of The National Post underlined the significance of this vote in a report citing a Conservative MP who observed: “Among our motivated support base, pro-life support is very high and they choose leaders. Aspiring leaders have virtually no chance, if they are seen as pro-abortion.”
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Mark Warawa has introduced a motion calling on the House to condemn sex-selection abortion. Harper should beware: If the Conservative Party fails to back even this symbolic measure for safeguarding the lives of baby girls in the womb, it could lose not only much of its remaining support among pro-lifers, but also the next federal election.