GOP Wedge Issues Aren’t Working

I still remember, dimly, Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Which was, wow, 30 years ago. I watched it because I had the flu or something like it and didn’t feel well enough to get off the sofa to change the channel. I must not have had a remote for that teevee. So there I was, feeling sick and stuck listening to Buchanan say stuff like this —

The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country.

Thirty years later, the culture wars are finally biting the Republicans. A bill projecting marriage rights for same sex and multiracial couples looks like it will pass very soon, with at least some Republican support.

After the 2004 midterms, Karl Rove was saying stuff like this

President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, said Tuesday that opposition to gay marriage was one of the most powerful forces in American politics today and that politicians ignored it at their peril.

“This is an issue on which there is a broad consensus,” Mr. Rove said, discussing a presidential election that took place as voters in 11 states backed constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriages.

“In all 11 states, it won by considerable margins,” Mr. Rove said, adding, “People do not like the idea or the concept of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman being uprooted and overturned by a few activist judges or a couple of activist local officials.”

Gay rights was one of Karl’s favorite wedge issues back then. He liked to get referendums regarding gay marriage on ballots to drive conservatives to the polls, and while they were there they’d also vote for Republicans.

But same-sex marriage was legalized by Obergefell v. Hodges, and the world didn’t end. And last year a Gallup poll found that more than 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. So at least some Republicans are not afraid of supporting gay marriage now.

The GOP is feeling snake bit by the abortion issue, or at least it should. The hard core forced childbirth crowd doesn’t see it that way, yet.

Some leaders and commentators who want to restrict abortion rights say they see no convincing reason to moderate their goals in the wake of the midterms.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, has been working to push back on what she calls a “facile narrative” that abortion rights were a winning issue for Democrats. In a Fox News op-ed she published on Monday, Dannenfelser argued that Republican candidates who went on the offense on abortion, and challenged their opponents’ “pro-abortion extremism” prevailed, citing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, North Carolina Senator-elect Ted Budd, and Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance. She contrasted them with Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Adam Laxalt in Nevada, who she said “buried their heads in the sand” on abortion. (Laxalt ran an ad this fall stressing that abortion rights are protected under Nevada law, and Oz mostly focused on how the federal government shouldn’t be involved.)

My sense of things is that GOP candidates, especially incumbents, in deep red states were not penalized by being anti-gay rights and anti-abortion. But in the purple states it cost the GOP dearly, and of course in blue states it’s a nonstarter. Laxalt and Oz probably would have lost by bigger margins had they more aggressively pushed the forced childbirth position. And this is one reason why Ron DeSantis is not a viable national candidate for the White House, IMO.

And even Marco Rubio appears to have toned down his opposition to legal abortion. In 2016 he was ranting fire and brimstone about Roe v. Wade as “a historically, egregiously flawed decision” that “has condoned the taking of innocent life on a massive scale.” Further, “It is fundamentally impossible for America to reach her destiny as a nation founded on the equal rights of all if our government believes an entire segment of the human population doesn’t have a right to exist.”

This year, Rubio said that while he favored banning abortions, the matter should be dealt with by the states not the federal government. He also added that he would vote for exceptions because he recognized that not everyone shares his viewpoint. And DeSantis, before the midterms, was dodging questions about abortion.

The Fetus People will not back down, of course. They’ll take every opportunity to punish women, because it’s what they live for, and red states will continue to pass restrictions.

See also School culture war campaigns fall flat in some tight races. The “parent’s rights,” anti-Critical Race Theory hysteria didn’t help Republicans win tight races in the swing states. It seems pretty clear that the old wedge issue strategy didn’t work for the GOP in the recent midterms, and I don’t see it working in a presidential race in 2024. 

Update: Nancy Pelosi has decided to step down from the House Dem leadership role.