In her article yesterday (see below), conservative pundit Ann Coulter continues to claim Republicans and “Washington elites” are undermining the Tea Party movement. To bolster her case of alarm she quotes Morton Kondracke, David Gergen, and Gloria Borger, but not one of them is a Republican.
She is correct in saying Ronald Reagan is more representative of today’s conservative movement than the late Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). Goldwater was the titular head of the conservative cause from 1962 until the beginning of the Reagan era. Many right wingers found it difficult to forgive him when he endorsed Gerald Ford over Reagan in the 1976 campaign.
Coulter’s article was published at the same time as the GOP’s new “Pledge to America,” which is being portrayed as a platform for the 2010 campaign. The new Pledge does not emphasize social issues, and they have not been winning issues in many blue states. Coulter sees social issues as a path to victory. Her article contains several errors.
She says “Reagan didn’t lose. He not only never lost an election, he never won by less than a landslide.” In 1976, Gerald Ford defeated Reagan in 26 states, AK, OR, IA, ND, KS, MS, FL, TN, KY, WV, OH, IL, WI, PA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, HI, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT and RI. In 1980, Bush defeated Reagan in five states. I highly doubt Reagan could have been re-elected Governor of California in 1974.
Coulter also says Reagan won a 1980 landslide because “social issues were the difference.” She makes the absurd claim that Reagan won in 1980 and “the abortion loving Goldwater” lost in 1964 because of social issues. This is complete nonsense.
Social issues were not a factor in the 1964 election and this took place nine years before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Goldwater’s support for abortion and gay rights was not known in 1964. What was known was Goldwater’s disgraceful opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Senators Strom Thurmond (SC), John Tower (R-TX), Albert Gore Sr. (D-TN) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) also voted against civil rights that year. The difference is they later regretted their vote, but Goldwater refused to back track even 30 years later when questioned by his biographer. Today Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is the only elected Republican who opposes the Civil Rights Act.
Four months after taking office as Governor of California, Reagan signed into law the nation’s most liberal abortion statute of its day. The 1980 campaign was based on economic and national security issues. As usual, social issues were dominant in the Iowa GOP caucus which Reagan lost.
The Misery Index was a significant factor in 1980. It is calculated by adding the inflation rate to the unemployment rate. Jimmy Cater successfully used the Misery Index in 1976 to defeat President Gerald Ford. That year unemployment was 7.7% and inflation was 5.45%, for a Misery Index of 13.45%. Carter repeatedly said that no one responsible for an Index of this magnitude had any right to ask for re-election. Four years later, the Misery Index was 21% and Reagan repeatedly quoted Carter and then asked the American people “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Carter was an evangelical Christian and Reagan did not defeat him because of social issues such as abortion.
There are examples of Republican candidates who have won by emphasizing social issues, but that rarely happens in Blue America. GOP Senate nominee Carly Fiorina could win in November, but she would be the first victorious pro-life California candidate in a long time. If Fiorina wins it will be despite of her pro-life views, not because of them. Blue states such as California are overwhelming pro-choice.
Coulter is also wrong in claiming: “Establishment Republicans are always telling Christian conservatives to put our issues aside because they’re not popular — and then moderate Republicans go on to lose elections, while conservative Republicans win in landslides.” Robert Stacy McCain agrees with Coulter and says “We would rather lose an election than to get screwed over by people who don’t respect us.” I have seven observations in response.
- First, the GOP establishment and regular Republicans are thoroughly conservative.
- Second, there are very few moderate Republicans left. According to the American Conservative Union ratings only two GOP Senators (Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both of Maine) have ratings below 65%. Instead of RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only) we should be referring to RIMO’s (Republicans in Maine Only).
- Third, conservatives do win in Republican states, but there is no evidence they have a better track than moderates in winning in blue states. No Republican currently represents any of the six New England states in the House of Representatives, and there are only two Republicans in the entire New York delegation.
- Fourth, Presidential elections are decided in the Big 10 conference states of the industrial Midwest. There have been no conservative landslides over the past decade. In fact, the entire region has not elected any hard core conservatives since Rick Santorum in 2000. Santorum received only 41% of the vote when he was defeated in 2006, which is the second lowest percentage in history for a Senate incumbent. There are plenty of examples where moderate conservatives have won, but not a Santorum style social conservatives.
- Fifth, this year is expected to be a landslide for all Republicans, but a moderate such as Michael Castile would have easily won in Delaware while it is doubtful conservative Christine O’Donnell will be able to win. Democrats are in the majority because they accept the conservative Blue Dogs. This year Democrats in Republican leaning states have nominated moderates such as Brad Ellsworth (IN), Charlie Melancon (LA) and Joe Manchin (WV). They view these candidates as being the most electable in conservative areas. That is exactly what many Republicans thought when they were advocating the nomination of Congressman Castle.
- Sixth, the GOP should not change its platform on social issues, but they are just part of the issue mix. In some election years economic issues are more important (which is clearly the case today), and in other years national security and foreign policy issues are the most prominent. Coulter indicated that Reagan and Goldwater were in complete agreement on foreign policy and national security. These issues are not on the front burner this year but they could easily return to prominence in 2012.
- Seventh, as Charles Krauthamer notes in today’s Washington Post, the big story this year is that the Tea Party has “planted its flag within the party and, with its remarkable energy, created the enthusiasm gap. . . The Tea Party could have become Perot ’92, an anti-government movement that spurned the Republicans, went third-party and cost George H.W. Bush reelection, ending 12 years of Republican rule.”
How Many Times Did Goldwater Run For President Again? by Ann Coulter