Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Richard Land took a preemptive strike against Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who raised eyebrows after calling for a “truce” on social issues and is considering a run for president. Land writes just one day after a WSJ poll found that the majority of GOP primary voters would be sympathetic to the “truce” offered by Daniels, who believes that the nation should be focusing on economic issues instead of fighting the “culture war.” Land, like many other Religious Right leaders, has come out swinging against Daniels’s proposal and dubbed the truce “political suicide.” The influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said that if Daniels continues to pursue the truce, he would go the way of former Sen. Phil Gramm, who lost many socially conservative supporters in his failed 1996 campaign for president. Land writes:
Indiana governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitch Daniels has suggested that Americans call a “truce” on divisive social issues until our precarious financial house is back in order. Many pundits have praised the idea, typically thrilled that a Republican leader seems willing to jettison, even temporarily, strong positions on abortion or gay marriage. But social conservatives are mad, and rightly so.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, social conservatives were the foot soldiers for Republican victories—only to see their issues bargained away or shoved to the bottom of the GOP agenda, beneath issues of fiscal and foreign policy. Reacting to Gov. Daniels, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently said: “For those of us who have labored long and hard in the fight to educate the Democrats, voters, the media and even some Republicans on the importance of strong families, traditional marriage and life to our society, this is absolutely heartbreaking.”
Perhaps Gov. Daniels interprets the emergence of the tea party as a sign that GOP candidates don’t have to depend on social-issues voters as they once did. That seems unlikely. As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has said, “Calling for a truce on core conservative principles might get you some high profile media sound bites, but it won’t win you the Republican presidential nomination.”
For Republicans to do anything to de-energize this voting bloc would amount to political suicide.
Most social conservatives are also fiscal conservatives. They recognize that a federal government that borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends is committing generational theft, spending our grandchildren’s money and impoverishing their future. Social conservatives also argue that government has such high costs partly because of the broken families, broken communities and broken ethics generated by moral relativism.
As Mark Twain reportedly observed, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” There once was a promising Republican presidential candidate known for being an economic guru and master of the numbers: Sen. Phil Gramm. At one point in 1996, he had raised more money than any other candidate. Like Gov. Daniels, Sen. Gramm had a sterling social conservative voting record and his lack of telegenic charisma was seen as an advantage, in contrast to President Clinton’s slick persona. But Sen. Gramm’s candidacy went down in flames after he dismissed a question about social issues by saying: “I’m not running for preacher, I’m running for president.”
There is a deep longing in large segments of the American populace for a restoration of a morality that emphasizes personal obligations and responsibilities over rights and privileges. Such a society will have a restored moral symmetry in which exemplary personal and professional behavior is rewarded and less exemplary behavior is not. As Jesus reminded us, “Man shall not live on bread alone.”