There have been several articles recently on the tension between the traditional Religious Right social conservatives and the ascendent Tea Party activists, due primarily to the fact that the lattter has not made the former’s anti-gay, anti-choice concerns a part of the agenda.
And while the Religious Right groups have been working hard to shoe-horn their agenda into the Tea Party movement and claim the mantle, nothing better represents their growing nervousness that they are being left on the sidelines by the GOP than this Washington Post op-ed by the Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser in which she warns the Republicans not to get so infatuated with the Tea Party movement that it ignores its anti-abortion base:
Republicans too often treat the abortion issue like an eccentric aunt at Thanksgiving dinner — if they ignore it, maybe it will go away. And lately, Republican heads have been turned by a new, flashy guest at the table — the tea party movement, which has been attracting big crowds, high-profile speakers and money with its message of lower taxes and less government spending. Some party leaders sound as if they are counting on this new energy to deliver victory in November all by itself.
That’s a risky bet. There is no doubt that the tea party movement has invigorated GOP leaders and given them hope of retaking Congress after the crushing defeat of 2008. However, the movement hasn’t been tested nationally at the ballot box; its power to elect or defeat candidates is still largely theoretical. But year in and year out, pro-life voters consistently help carry Republican candidates into office.
Party leaders are focused instead on economic issues, cap-and-trade climate legislation, immigration and foreign policy. But while Republican leaders have remained relatively silent, the voters have not … At the Susan B. Anthony List we’ve seen letters, e-mails, faxes and phone calls to Congress from activists with our group jump five-fold — to 1.5 million in just one year.
This grass-roots response shows the real electoral risk of staying mute. Pro-life improves the GOP brand — and is often the strongest part of the brand … Pro-lifers provide the swing votes that are so crucial to winning elections. Republican candidates usually can count on the antiabortion vote … But they won’t be taken for granted. We know from past experience that lukewarm candidates who refuse to talk about abortion won’t get voters to the polls.
Because of the movement’s growth in numbers and power, antiabortion voters are likely to provide a much more sizable winning margin on Election Day than they have in previous years. But they can do this only if they know where candidates — and party leaders — stand.
Now is the time to tell them … The next few months of candidate recruitment and messaging will decide whether 2010 is a 1994 moment. The Republican Party seems to have a political advantage today … But it’s not yet clear whether that advantage can translate into electoral success in November. The social-conservative, antiabortion engine combined with an electrified smaller-government, low-tax movement has the momentum. It’s Republicans’ chance to grab it.
They just need to remind people that theirs is still the pro-life party. If, in fact, it is.