Why The Republicans Lost Part IV
Over at Reason, David Weigel argues that the explanation for the Republican losses in November is really quite simple. After 2004, the GOP decided to concentrate on its social and religious conservative wing and ignore libertarian oriented voters completely. It started, Weigel argues with the Terry Schiavo case when the GOP pandered to the evangelical right in what was probably one of the most disgusting displays of law making in quite some time. But that, Weigel points out, was only the beginning of the reasons for the decline:
“The libertarian West,” Hotline Editor Chuck Todd wrote in a post-election column, “is a region that is more up for grabs than it should be. And it’s because the Republican Party has grown more religious and more pro-government, which turns off these ‘leave me alone,’ small-government libertarian Republicans.”
The decline isn’t entirely the Republicans’ fault. They just created an opening for their opponents to exploit. The Democrats in the libertarian West, tenderized by the wipeouts of the 1990s, reassessed their positions on the Second Amendment, public land, and taxes, and reintroduced themselves to voters. In the Bush years, they gave stronger support to civil liberties than most of their Republican competitors. At one Montana debate, GOP Sen. Conrad Burns lambasted Democrat Jon Tester for wanting to “weaken” the PATRIOT Act. Tester shot back that he didn’t want to weaken it: “I want to repeal it.” Tester won the election.
Of course, the PATRIOT Act isn’t a “social issue.” That’s part of the point. The Bush-Rove iteration of the Republican Party, with its tight focus on social issues and its coordination with religious groups to turn out votes, fell dramatically short with an electorate for whom other subjects had more salience. In future elections, that skeptical segment of the country will only grow larger. The libertarian states of Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada are growing as the Deep South and the Rust Belt stagnate. And young professionals in Republican killing fields like Virginia and Ohio are getting more socially liberal, not less.
Even the existence of anti-gay marriage amendments on several state ballots, all but one of which passed, didn’t help the GOP. Here in Virginia, Amendment 1 got more votes than soon-to-be-former Senator George Allen, even though Allen logically should have been the choice of the people who opposed same-sex marriage.
The story was much the same all over the country. The “values voters” that the GOP was relying on, and which supposedly saved Bush in Ohio in 2004, weren’t enough to carry the day. Until the Republicans figure that out, though, and stop pandering to the religious wing of the party, they are only going to see repeats of what happened in November