Reince Priebus

In a surprising but welcome move, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus is, according to The Washington Times:

… delaying the start of the party’s annual winter meeting so he and other committee members can join the March for Life on the Mall….

Mr. Priebus, in his second term as elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, chose to delay the start of the four-day winter meeting of the GOP governing body, also scheduled in Washington, to allow himself and RNC members to attend the march. The delay is unprecedented for a major U.S. political party, several state Republican Party chairmen and other RNC members said in telephone interviews.

Mr. Priebus also decided that the RNC will charter a bus to and from the march for those among the RNC’s 168 members who wish to attend….

I’m, of course, pleased by this visible show of support by the RNC. It will certainly garner the March for Life much deserved attention that MSM usually avoids while demonstrating some respect for the pro-life issue at the Republican leadership level. That this is even news demonstrates the perceived lack thereof. Were Chairman Preibus’s counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to announce she were attending an abortion fest sponsored by Planned Parenthood, the response would be, “But, of course.”

This move spurns erroneous advice of either liberal or wimpy arm chair quarterbacks like William Whalen who wrote in the Wall Street Journal on November 6, as they always do, that “Republicans would do well to de-emphasize social issues” since, he wrote, “[w]ithout the ‘war on women’ and its effect on turnout in the presidential election, Mr. Obama’s re-election might not have occurred.”

In fact, the “war on women” was one-sided, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney electing to play rope-a-dope to Obama’s punches rather than punch back.

Same goes for pro-lifer Ken Cuccinelli against slimy pro-abort Terry McAuliffe.

American Principles in Action nailed the ridiculousness of this strategy in its excellent GOP Autopsy Report 2013:

In 2011, Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels suggested that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until our economic problems are resolved.

The next president, obviously, did not agree. President Obama has aggressively pursued his party’s social issues, from gay marriage, to abortion rights….

Meanwhile in the general election, Mitt Romney and his allied organizations acted on Daniels’ advice. Romney, the RNC and Romney-affiliated PACs all rigorously avoided television advertising on social issues, even in states (like Ohio) where the president’s support of gay marriage and taxpayer-funded abortion could have hurt him.

Unlike the GOP’s crop of successful state governors, who have generally governed as integrated conservatives (prioritizing economic issues but also pursuing socially conservative

legislation), the national GOP pursued a strategy of silence on social issues in the 2012 general election.

This national GOP truce strategy was noted by ABC News reporter John Parkinson when the Supreme Court ruled against Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013. The national GOP reaction to the Supreme Court decision was “almost entirely muted.” “Scores of Democrats [in Congress] tweeted their excitement and agreement with the Court when the decision was announced,” wrote Parkinson. “House Speaker John Boehner held a previously scheduled news conference at the Capitol, but when he was asked to react to the Courts [sic] decision, he punted.”

Similarly in June 2013, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis’s dramatic filibuster temporarily killed a late-term abortion ban and became a national cause celebre – but only among Democrats, as Politico noticed.

Democrats from President Obama down publicly supported Davis, while national Republican leadership “hasn’t latched onto the fight,” wrote Politico author David Nathers. “Few national Republicans have weighed in. And a key party official in Texas acknowledged there’s no behind-the-scenes help coming, though he says he doesn’t need it. Republicans will talk about the abortion bill when they’re asked about it, but they aren’t swooping into the fight with the same enthusiasm as liberals.”

National GOP elites publicly deny adopting a truce strategy, even as behind the scenes they urge (or even require as a condition of financial support) federal candidates to mute themselves on social issues….

One problem for the truce strategy is that “I’m not that extreme” is not an effective political response to the charge of extremism. It may be true, but it doesn’t work, politically speaking.

Politically, here is how the truce strategy plays out:

The Left punches on social issues, the Republican and conservative elites retreat and change the subject. The Left’s narrative therefore dominates. A unilateral “truce” on social issues turns into a political rout, failing in its alleged goal of “rebranding” the GOP. Instead it allows the Left to brand a silent and therefore defenseless GOP based on leftwing views of what “pro-life” or other values issues mean.

This issues-pessimism embodied in the truce strategy has created a self-defeating cycle on the social issues. The GOP adopts positions on values issues that its leaders refuse to advocate for or defend when attacked. The Democrats, understanding the GOP truce strategy, push hard, energizing their base, while accusing GOP candidates of extremism anyway.

The Democrats know they will not pay a price for their increasingly aggressive advocacy of their extremist social issues stances, because the GOP will not counterpunch on these issues. Thus they can please their base at no cost. In the face of Democratic political pressure, GOP candidates retreat, leaving middle-of-the-road voters to suspect that the unanswered charge of extremism is true (since undefended); and leaving voters who care deeply about life and other social issues to doubt GOP candidates’ sincerity.

Worst of all, the GOP doesn’t get the full, political benefit of our values stance, especially on life issues, because GOP national candidates do not seek to make the Democrats pay a price for their abortion-on-demand, taxpayer-funded, mandate-imposing extremism. The Democrats’ charge of extremism is left unanswered, confirmed in many voters’ minds by Republicans’ discomfort with our own positions. Hiding from your positions makes it look like you have something to hide.

When Todd Akin made his awful rhetorical faux pas on abortion and rape, Republicans and conservatives not only criticized his remarks, they distanced themselves and the party from his candidacy, and tried to force him out of the race and refused to fund his candidacy.

Yet many among GOP elites continue to blame Romney’s defeat on Akin, rather than recognize the fundamental weakness of a truce strategy: The strategy of retreat, rather than counterpunch, abjectly fails because it leaves the GOP’s political enemies free to define the meaning of the GOP’s position in voters’ minds.

The best defense for the weaker side of social issues (again politically speaking) is a strong offense; the alternative to a truce strategy is aggressively defining the social issues in voters’ minds on the Democrats’ weakest ground.

A perfect illustration of the truce strategy happened in the first debate for Virginia’s tight governor’s race in July 2013, when an obviously truce-savvy mainstream reporter asked Cuccinelli if he would push for abortion restrictions. Cuccinelli replied: “I do not expect to use the political capital of the governor’s office to be moving those pieces of legislation. My focus is on job creation and job growth.”

Cuccinelli did not use this opportunity to try to hold McAuliffe accountable for his deeply unpopular support of late-term or gender-selection or taxpayer financed abortions; instead Cuccinelli’s response suggests that his campaign has accepted the conventional wisdom that the best use to make of social issues is to signal to voters that you don’t take your own positions seriously enough to govern with them, so it’s safe for the mushy middle to vote for you. We do not bring this up to criticize Cuccinelli in particular, but simply as one of many illustrations of how the truce dynamic has taken over as the GOP’s conventional wisdom.

The truce strategy fails, politically, for three reasons: 1) it allows the opponents of the GOP to define the GOP brand, 2) it fails to make the Democrats pay a price politically for their social issues extremism, and 3) it persuades voters who might be attracted by the GOP values positions on life, marriage, or religious liberty that Republicans are fundamentally unserious in their values commitment, and therefore untrustworthy across the board.

To put it another way, the Left has read the GOP elites’ truce strategy playbook and they correctly understand the national GOP’s unwillingness to speak on social issues as an opportunity to use their mainstream media power to brand Republicans as extremists; they can do so because the truce strategy ensures that national Republicans will never fight back and make Democrats pay for their abortion and other social issues extremism. Democrats know that instead the GOP will retreat and change the subject to less “divisive” topics.

The truce strategy is a way to guarantee you lose a political argument, and the Democrats know it.

The APIA Report goes on to document the actual “pro-life advantage” among youth, independents, women, and Americans in general.

2014-01-06_1549Perhaps Chairman Priebus is taking steps to correct the RNC’s huge political miscalculation. He may have started several months ago when accusing MSM of ignoring Planned Parenthood’s support of infanticide. When he ran for chairman it was certainly as an avowed pro-lifer. As recently as December 18 he expressed support on MSNBC for an abortion ban after four months.

We shall see. Rest assured MSM will cover the RNC’s “unprecedented” move to participate in the March for Life – and not objectively. It will try to find cracks, to get Priebus et al to make verbal mistakes. I hope he and others have done their homework.

[Top photo via Huffington Post]

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