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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/27/09

Republican Party and its upcoming Civil War

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Steven Leser
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A few days ago, Meaghan McCain spoke of a war within the Republican Party between, and I am paraphrasing for a number of reasons, the future, and those who are terrified of it. While Meaghan McCain is not considered an authority on the Republican Party, I think she is right.

Anytime one of the two major parties in the US takes two or more election drubbings in a row (at least one involving a loss of the Presidency), it usually prompts soul searching and reevaluations of the party platform. Sometimes, the soul-searching process is quick and painless, but occasionally it is long and bloody. I’ll explain why I agree with Meaghan McCain, why I think the process this time for the Republicans will be long and bloody and will cite empirical research from a 2007 study {1} of the GOP electorate sponsored by the Republican Leadership Council, Republican Main Street Partnership, Republican Majority for Choice and the Log Cabin Republicans.
The study found that there are seven segments of the Republican Party. I won’t list and explain all of them, but the most important segment for understanding what is likely going to happen to the Republican Party over the next 10-25 years is what the study termed the “Moralists” segment. This segment comprises 24% of the GOP nationally, has a lower income than the party average, are disproportionately female and as a majority self identify as Born Again, or Evangelical Christians.

The study found that the other 76% of the Republican Party believes that the party is too focused on moral issues. A large majority of this 76% would still vote for a candidate if they disagreed with them on the abortion issue.  The moralists are the only segment of the GOP that has a large majority who oppose gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

I’m picking on the moralists but it is important to note that the study found other areas of disagreement among the seven major segments of the Republican Party; it’s just that those disagreements are, in my opinion, not going to be the main fault lines for the upcoming war for control of the GOP.

What Meagan McCain spoke to was the growing discontent among the 76% of the Republican Party electorate who believe the party is too focused on moral issues. This group does not want to lose elections because they are alienating gays and lesbians, those who are pro-choice, etc. As much as it pains me to admit this as a Democrat, once the civil rights aspect of the LGBT situation no longer exists, there will probably be some Republican Party appeal for this group. Gays and Lesbians are typically two wage earner households without children. In other words, they have a lot of income and not much in the way of tax deductions. One has to believe that once the Republican Party doesn’t have the position of trying to deny marriage rights and other equal rights to this community, some of them will find the economic platform of the Republican Party appealing. I’m not just saying this from conjecture. When on behalf of the Democratic Party of Pinellas County, FL I visited several LGBT resorts, houses of worship and businesses during election 2000, I heard a lot of feedback from this group about how conservative many of them were on economic issues.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the Gay and Lesbian caucus within the Republican Party, has been at times quietly, and at other times not so quietly pushing this point for years. So what’s the catch for the GOP? The moralists, i.e. the born again and evangelical component of the party are the most enthusiastic supporters of the party and they turn out on election day like no other group within the GOP.  The Republican party cannot cut the moralists out of the party and expect to win elections, and the 2007 study by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates makes it clear that the moralists segment will NOT vote for candidates who are in favor of gay rights or abortion rights.

The Republican party can take some small comfort in the fact that, at least in terms of the gay rights issue, even its electorate is getting more comfortable with time. Within 10-25 years, there may be no significant objections within the GOP to the idea of equal rights for gays. The problem for the Republican Party leadership is what to do until then. Certainly, if they intend to appeal to independents and moderates, a moralist approach that berates the “Homosexual Lifestyle” and uses other, similar rhetoric is not going to work on a national level. If one understands that the Republican Party electorate’s position on the LGBT community is softening, the acceptance for gays among Democrats and Independents is already very high and growing rapidly.

I believe the ultimate question is when is the Republican Party going to jettison the parts of its platform that appeal to the moralists and thus jettison the moralists themselves and how bad is the backlash of that going to be for the party. If you look only at the chances for taking the White House, it’s hard to imaging the Republicans winning in 2012 or even 2016. I think if you are Steele or another top member of the party, you have to be looking down the road to 2020 or 2024 as your first real shot. If that is the case, then ditching the moralists now probably doesn’t lose you that much.

As a Democrat, I love seeing all of this. As a supporter of gay rights, gay marriage, gays serving openly in the military, etc. it is doubly sweet. I’ll gladly take the hit of losing a few percent of support for the Democratic Party among the LGBT community if it means they get equal rights. Besides, the consequences for the GOP are going to be much worse. The moralists are not going to exit the stage gracefully. At least three of the top Republican Presidential candidates for 2012 are moralists, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. Those three candidates are going to try to reinforce the status quo in the Republican Party. It remains to be seen who might emerge as a national level GOP leader to take on the moralists directly. Right now, I think most prominent Republicans are too afraid to do so but eventually someone will. When that happens, the Republican Party civil war will officially be on.


{1} “The Elephant Looks in the Mirror 10 Years Later, A Critical Look at Today’s Grand Old Party”, Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, June 2007

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A political blogger for the International Business Times, Steve Leser is a hot national political pundit. He has appeared on MSNBC's Coundown with Keith Olbermann, Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Russia Today's (RT) Crosstalk with (more...)
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