Hot Topic: Should the GOP De-Emphasize Social Issues?

For the last 10 days, we’ve had something of a running debate among GOP columnists on the question of whether Republicans should de-emphasize social issues as part of a broader political strategy to appeal to more voters.


It began when Roger L. Simon penned a column titled “How Social Conservatives are Saving Liberalism (Barely).” Simon believes that social issues, specifically gay marriage, may keep Republicans from victory:

Now I readily acknowledge I have been pro-same-sex marriage for many years. So I am not a perfectly honest broker. But as an observer of society, and as a writer that’s what I’m paid to do, I have to say in all candor that political opposition to same-sex marriage is the Achilles’ heel of the right going into 2016. Social conservatives who intend to make a serious issue out of it should realize that the fallout from their views could adversely affect all of us in a catastrophic way.

Respectfully, and passionately, Bryan Preston responded:

Where do the surrenders end? Those who share the shut-up sentiment never say. They just tell social conservatives to shut up already and give up on the issues that for many are the very reason that they got into politics in the first place. So we surrender on marriage, then we give up on life, and pretty soon, they’ll be telling us to give up on the Second Amendment, then the First, then something else. Always retreat, ever surrender, because they say so, never offering a glimpse of what might be the end game.

Andrew McCarthy weighed in with a rejoinder, “The GOP and Social Issues: Another Perspective”:

Roger may be right about the salience of gay marriage for young people. The logic of “traditional marriage” is beside the point; the debate has become the noble “us” versus the baleful “them.” Young voters, however, are just one demographic in a broad landscape that includes legions of social conservatives. Without the support of those legions, Republicans simply cannot win elections, especially presidential elections.


Roger Kimball added his thoughts in “That Awful Word ‘Social'”:

Aristotle defined “rhetoric” as the art of persuasion. It is the political art par excellence because the metabolism of politics ordinarily operates through persuasion, not demonstration or force. I submit that conservatives, through a combination of bumbling ineptness and historical accident, have unwittingly ceded the rhetorical high ground to the left. Unfolding the reasons for this would take us into deep and murky waters. For now, I’d merely like to suggest that if conservatives are going to be successful in “standing athwart history,” they need to be sure they are standing on solid ground.

Andrew Klavan on the gay marriage issue: “How the Right Talks About Gays”:

…while I’m far closer to Roger on this issue than to Bryan, I feel strongly that any move toward gay marriage needs to be accompanied by well-stated protections for religious conscience — yes, even though my own religious ideas are different. It should not be that a religious person or organization that holds homosexuality sinful should be forced to relate to gay couples in the same way they relate to straights. I don’t think Catholic adoption agencies should have to cater to gay couples, and I certainly don’t think a religious photographer should be forced to photograph a gay wedding. Please don’t leave comments comparing this to denying service to black people. Race is a nothing, an invented nonsense. Gay people commit acts that long tradition condemns. It’s a much different proposition.


Andrew McCarthy (“The GOP and Social Issues: Confronting the Gay Marriage Question”) and Paula Bolyard (“Implementing Andrew McCarthy’s Proposed Compromise on the Marriage Question”) conducted a colloquy of their own on gay marriage.

What was truly noteworthy about this debate was the respect all columnists gave each other despite the passions unleashed by the nature of the argument. It should stand as an example for all conservatives to follow when debating issues among ourselves.

You’ve heard from the columnists. Now it’s your turn. Should the GOP de-emphasize social issues? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. If you haven’t registered to comment, please take a few seconds to do so.


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