Skip to comments.The Myth of the 'Values Voters'
Posted on 12/14/2006 8:37:44 PM PST by neverdem
The Republicans handed libertarian votes--and the elections--over to the Democrats.
At the Democrats official election night party in Washington, D.C., all eyes were on Floridafor about 10 seconds. At 8 p.m. network exit polls confirmed that Rep. Katherine Harris, for this crowd the arch-villain of the 2000 election, was lopsidedly losing her bid for a Senate seat. The partygoers cheered the news. Then they turned their attention to races that carried at least a whiff of suspense.
They shouldnt have dismissed Florida so quickly. Less than two years earlier, the Sunshine State had shown the first symptoms of the malady that would defeat the GOP in races from California to New Hampshire. Republicans had convinced themselves that socially conservative values voters were the key to maintaining and extending their power. It was in Florida that the strategy started to crumble, reminding any politician who cared to listen that a lot of voters just want the government to leave them alone.
The town of Pinellas Park, not far from Harris old House district, contains the hospice where Terri Schiavo died. The battle between the brain-damaged womans parents, who wanted to keep her on life support, and her husband, who wanted to remove it, had bubbled up into Floridas Republican-controlled legislature before. But in March 2005, emboldened by the GOPs 2004 victories, Tom DeLays House and Bill Frists Senate elbowed into the controversy. President Bush broke off a stint in Crawford, Texas, to sign emergency legislation to keep the feeding tube attached.
It was one of the worst political miscalculations of the decade. Immediately after the Schiavo push, approval numbers for Bush and his party started to plummet. Polls showed not just Democrats but Republicans and independents opposed to the Schiavo intervention. Republicans responded by assuming the polls were wrong. The country had re-elected them, hadnt it? Of course voters were foursquare behind the idea of legislatively re-attaching a feeding tube to a brain-dead woman.
The presidents ratings reeled into the 40s, then the 30s, and never really recovered. The numbers for the GOP Congress fell even further. And on election night, voters turned out the most socially conservative Congress in decades while taking a two-by-four to socially conservative initiatives in the states. A ban on all abortions was defeated in South Dakota. Missouri legalized stem cell research. And while seven states passed gay marriage bans, Arizona became the first state ever to reject one. In most of the states where the bans did passSouth Carolina and Idaho being the exceptionsvoters elected Democrats to major statewide offices anyway. The ballyhooed effect of gay marriage bans on conservative turnout, credited by some for George W. Bushs 2004 victory in Ohio, fell utterly flat.
These defeats wouldnt have come as a surprise if not for the consensus, minted hours after the 2004 polls closed, that Republicans were building a permanent majority on the backs of conservative evangelicals. The TV networks exit poll showed 22 percent of voters naming moral values as the key to their ballots. In the hands of a Republican caucus defined by the born-again Tom DeLay in the House and the big-government conservative Rick Santorum in the Senate, this was a mandate; it encouraged them to indulge their invasiveness on privacy and other civil liberties issues. The party didnt just support national ID cards and warrantless wiretaps. With impunity, it campaigned against Democrats for opposing those measures.
Early in the 2006 cycle, Democrats spotted the opening theyd been given. They recruited candidates for every Republican seat in districts that had voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush, and they started to criticize the conduct, and sometimes the very fact, of the Iraq war. They got multiple adrenaline boosts from the GOPs scandals, starting with the corruption allegations against DeLay, which the leadership took pains to overlook until he was actually indicted. They maintained leads as the incumbents cupped their hands over their eyes and ears and refused to consider any shifts in their approach to Iraq.
That strategy ended on November 7, with the defeat of many hot-button ballot measures and with heavy losses in House, Senate, and state races. The liberal Northeast was scrubbed almost clean of Republicans: From Pennsylvania through Maine, the Democrats picked up nine or 10 House seats. (At press time, one race in Connecticut was going to a recount.) And the rout continued in the Midwest and the Plains. Four years earlier Kansas had elected an ultra-conservative attorney general named Phill Kline, who used the power of his office to snoop into the medical records of patients at abortion clinics. He was crushed, 58 percent to 42 percent, by a Republican who switched parties to challenge him. And while Kline went down, Republicans lost an eastern Kansas House seat in a district that had voted for Bush over Kerry by 20 points.
There were lessons in the races the Republicans did win too. In the Mountain West, Republican candidates had their margins slashed dramatically. Idahos 1st District, which gave Bush 70 percent of its vote, handed only 50 percent to a doctrinaire conservative. Wyomings sole House seat gave its Republican incumbent a win by less than 1 percentage point. In state after state, Republican support plunged.
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 its 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 isnt 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 didnt want to weaken it: I want to repeal it. Tester won the election.
Of course, the PATRIOT Act isnt a social issue. Thats 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.
Election-night spinners tried to argue that the new congressional class consists of conservative Democrats. But while the newly elected Democrats include several relatively libertarian supporters of the Second Amendment, even their most conservative members, such as Pennsylvanias senator-elect Bob Casey Jr., support the morning-after pill and some stem cell research.
The GOPs fundamentalist myopia, combined with its sorry record on spending and corruption, has made Grover Norquists Leave Us Alone Coalition a bloc thats up for grabs. In Norquists formulation, the coalition includes taxpayers who want the government to reduce the tax burden, property owners, farmers, and homeowners who want their property rights respected. Voters like these are now willing to entertain alternatives to a Southern-dominated, religious GOP.
They proved that in Pennsylvania, where Casey felled Rick Santorumthe only senator who actually flew down to Florida to join the Pinellas Park circusin an 18-point landslide. On Election Day, the Philadelphia Inquirer found a voter willing to explain why Santorum lost. I dont know what happened to him, said Roby Lentz, a Republican. He quit representing me when he showed up at Terri Schiavos bedside.
David Weigel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant editor of Reason.
hmm... And here I thought Liberaltarians were only 2% of the electorate.
Well, let's say that values voters represent maybe 60% of the Republican base and libertarian voters represent maybe 10%.
Do you think Republicans can win by p*ssing off the values voters? I don't.
I think it's correct to say that the Democrat sweep was brought about partly be libertarian defections. Frankly, they were STUPID, with a capital S.
There's no way that conservatives can form a majority coalition unless the fiscal conservatives get together with the right to lifers and religious conservatives and agree to support each others' bottom lines. Otherwise, frankly, they will hand the country over to the Democrats.
As a religious conservative, I'm perfectly happy to support tax cuts and budget cuts. Are libertarians prepared to reciprocate and agree that we need judges who will throw out Roe v. Wade, even though most libertarians probably like the idea of free sex without much restraints? But if they want their tax cuts, they will have to support the bottom line issues of the religions conservatives. And they might consider also that Roe v. Wade was bad constitutional law, passed by powerdrunk liberal justices. Put it back with the states where it belongs.
They gain nothing by going off in a snit and letting the Democrats take over the country because they are too stupid to see where their own advantage lies--in a cooperative coalition of conservatives, giving up on less important matters if necessary in order to get what is most important to them.
Excellent post. Thank you.
"It (trying to save Terry Schiavo) was one of the worst political miscalculations of the decade."
No hyperbole there. If libertarians think they are better served by Democrats, they have a rude shock coming. Was it really sooooooo terribly hard for libertarians to compromise with the social conservatives to try and save someone, like Terri Schiavo? Is that really asking too much? I hope not. Libertarians and "values voters" have much more in common than libertarians and Democrats. We are, for the most part, on the same team.
Well put Cicero!
So how come the libertarian Republicans fared the worst?
The Schiavo incident was a debacle because it was a pre-ordained defeat. It didn't enliven "values voters"; quite to the contrary the message was: "We'll put on a show for you guys because we have to, but let the rest of the world know we find you a tiresome burden." It stank of craven, cynical and incompetent pandering, just like the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.
sure, because what good is having your cake if you can't eat it too, right? we're unimportant, but to blame? stick it.
Minor point: She was not brain dead and no one claimed that she was. She was brain injured and now she is just plain dead. The valid point in this analysis is that many of the "swing voters" are people who want the government out of their lives. If that is what they want, they made a big mistake in 2006.
dangus wrote: "The Schiavo incident was a debacle because it was a pre-ordained defeat."
Agreed, but it was hardly one of the worst political miscalculations of the decade. I doubt very, very few voters even considered it during the election.
I wouldn't call them that. They typically were described as moderates or centrist RINOs, like Jim Leach, author in the House of the ban on Internet gambling, IIRC.
Even values voters expect an agenda, I imagine.
The real question, the one lost between the socialists who look forward to making life and death decisions and the religious zealots, was is how the government decided Schiavo's wishes. I didn't think libertarians would favor that decision being made by a judge, using such things as a pollster, a priest who had never met Schiavo but commented on the depths of her faith and hearsay.
The Republicans didn't err in intervening, they erred in not articulating the constitutional rights that were assaulted. The question was who has the right to decide, not what was decided.
More likely, especially in marginal races, the shift was brought about by a portion of multi-millions of Legal and Illegal Aliens VOTING..
The success of that is and will be noticed more by democrats than republicans..
2008 awaits (Jaws Theme).. Republican denial on this is a gross delusion..
No forgiveness required. The mantra obviously failed to convince. However, I think we will, in fact, see serious 2nd amendment assaults, activist judges who will uphold unjust affirmative action policies and a further expansion of eminent domain. I agree that voting republican is not as joyful as in times past. But you may be more enthusiastic next time around.
Cicero wrote: "Frankly, they were STUPID, with a capital S."
Libertarian4Bush wrote: "stick it."
A bit more civility would go a long way toward healing the party (if not making discussions here more enjoyable). As I mentioned before, libertarians and social conservatives probably share similar opinions on 90% of the issues and only disagree on 10%. I'm a dreaded religious fundamentalist, but I'd rather let a libertarian smoke a joint (under Oregon's medical marijuana law, for example) than use the federal government to strong arm them.
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