One week after the Republican mid-term victories, Peter White, a former principal secretary to Brian Mulroney, wrote in the Globe and Mail that there are lessons for Canada’s Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in the success of conservatives south of the border. He argued that the strategy of President George W. Bush’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove, is “instructive” and should be modelled. He said Rove sought candidates for important races (mostly in the Senate) who had “smooth presentation skills, a moderate image and strong conservative convictions.” Conversely, Rove persuaded candidates who did not fit this model not to run.
While White’s analysis of Rove’s political strategy is correct, Rove sought candidates that White and many Canadian “conservative” strategists would surely not find “moderate” in appearance.
In the close races of Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Dakota, the White House strategy ended up recruiting four pro-life candidates. Three of the four won – John Thune lost to South Dakota incumbent Senator Tim Johnson by less than 600 votes – and two of those three won what were formerly Democratic seats. Exit polling showed that where abortion was an important issue, pro-life candidates benefited by a margin of at least three to one. Fox News Channel reported that in at least two Senate races (Minnesota and Missouri), the issue was decisive, providing victories for pro-life Republicans. In both races, the Republicans were unabashedly pro-life. The voters rewarded them.
White, in his book Gritlock: Are the Liberals in Forever?, co-written with Adam Daifallah, says that the Canadian Alliance must abandon its referendum policy, which the authors argue is little more than cover for a pro-life plank. White has consistently argued against the inclusion of a strong social conservative plank for the parties of the Canadian right (Tories and Alliance). But as the data from the United States illustrates, having strong pro-life convictions can be an electoral asset.
Admittedly, the political culture is different in Canada, but the strategy of ignoring or downplaying social conservative concerns has not proven politically successful. The federal Tories have used the fiscal conservative/socially progressive model since 1993 and have finished as the fifth place party in three consecutive elections, while the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties have downplayed social conservative issues and have utterly failed to expand beyond their regional (Western) base.