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GOP Starts Election with a Strategy Built to Lose in 2012

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The 2012 election may become one of the most hotly contested elections of all time. With a resurgence of popular political activism, a costly and seeming endless war, a failing economy and a controversial president, the election is rich with opportunity and there are plenty of opportunists out there ready to grab for it.

One effect of this is that potential candidates are entering the public parade even earlier than usual and the stage for their beauty contest is the Iowa Caucus which kicks off the election. Likely candidates are looking for a message which will resonate in Iowa and give them a boost starting off the election.

Coming out of his victory in the CPAC straw poll, the first candidate to try to grab that spotlight was Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) who fired the opening salvo of the election with a long and convoluted statement opposing gay marriage and supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, addressed to the people of Iowa.

For those who have an overly idealistic view of the libertarian-leaning Republican, his latest statement on gay marriage is in direct contradiction to statements made early in the previous presidential race in an interview with John Stossel. In that interview Paul unequivocally stated his principled opposition to government definition of marriage:

“Stossel: Should gays be allowed to marry?
Paul: Sure. They can do whatever they want and they can call it whatever they want…they can’t make me personally accept what they do…as a matter of fact, I’d like to see all governments out of the marriage question. I don’t think it’s a state function. It’s a religious function.”

Yet Dr. Paul’s recent defense of DOMA in response to President Obama’s decision to stop enforcing it on constitutional grounds, takes the position that it is acceptable for state governments to define marriage and impose that definition on churches and that the DOMA’s federal level definition of marriage is also acceptable. He argues that DOMA stops “Big Government in Washington from re-defining marriage and forcing its definition on the States,” but the fact is that the act does impose a definition of marriage on the states, just one which excludes gay couples.

Gay marriage is a hot topic in Iowa. After courts there ruled gay marriage legal on constitutional grounds, activists targeted the state and got the legislature to pass its own Defense of Marriage Act and got the judges who made the ruling voted off the bench. This statement may help Paul in the short term with conservative Iowa primary voters, but it may cost him and all Republicans in the general election. This starts the campaign off on a divisive message on a social issue which fragments the Republican party, taking a position which is poison with key independent voters.

It now seems that Paul has started a trend. This week likely candidates Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty joined him in opposing the Obama position on DOMA. Palin cleverly tried to transfer the blame for DOMA to Democrats while still supporting it:

“I have always believed that marriage is between one man and one woman. Like the majority of Americans, I support the Defense of Marriage Act and find it appalling that the Obama administration decided not to defend this federal law which was enacted with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by a Democrat president.”

It now seems quite likely that other Republican candidates will be encouraged to follow this same strategy and play up divisive social issues like gay marriage in the primary. This presumably seems advantageous to them going into a primary with a large field of candidates, but what is winning that primary worth if by moving to the right on social issues they cost whoever ends up winning the Republican nomination key votes in the general election?

Their strategy is making the entire party look more radical on social issues than it really is. Polling shows that 59% of Republicans support gay marriage or civil unions. The numbers may be less favorable in Iowa, but those who put gay marriage on the front burner may even be weakening themselves in the primary in other states. It is also a risky face for the party to present to independent voters who support gay marriage or legal civil unions by a large 73% majority. To win in 2012 the Republican nominee will need every independent vote he can get and losing half or more of them over radicalism on social issues is a formula for defeat.

It’s also drawing inevitable criticism from the media and the political left and gives opportunistic social conservatives a legitimacy and a level of influence which they really don’t merit. This early move essentially forces the whole party to the right on secondary issues while distracting from a more effective pro-jobs, pro-growth and small government message which has broad appeal. Down the road when the eventual Republican nominee wants to run on important issues of national policy the result of these choices in Iowa will be that he will have to defend the unappealing positions which the party and its candidates took on these divisive issues early in the election.

Some candidates like gay Republican Fred Karger and the strongly principled Gary Johnson may be able to stand apart from the taint of the Iowa campaign, but Karger appears to be skipping Iowa entirely and Johnson will likely be shooting for the anonymity of the middle of the pack and saving his efforts for later.

Beginning with his speech at CPAC, Governor Mitch Daniels has worked hard to separate himself from the religious right and publicly push for a truce on social issues to keep his campaign viable on a national level. His statements have touched off a backlash from social conservatives whose answer is to promote their issues even more aggressively. The result of this disagreement may well be a split within the Republican Party and when that division leads to defeat in 2012 the rift may prove irreparable.

It’s still early in the primary process, but the Republican Party has been set on what may be a path towards self-destruction. If candidates continue to follow the herd and pander to a divisive minority which does not have the best interests of the party or the nation at heart, by the time the election finally comes around, what looks like a real shot at victory today may well have already been thrown away. A party which puts its worst face forward by letting its most extreme elements set its agenda may not have much of a future.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Handy, since nothing even vaguely resembling substantive cuts is going to get passed, Obama is going to be left to sink or swim on his own policies and the dreadful results they have produced and will continue to produce. With cuts lower even than he proposed he will have no one but other Demcorats to blame.


  • Jeff

    What really PO’s striaght’s is the fact we have the sex life they only wished they could.Yes some of us are in a very committed relationship and it is sometimes life long just like in hetrosexual relationships. In the end though it is not the sex it is the love that matters and in how we care for our partners.This is what they can not understand how can a man love another man? If we all loved each other no matter what sex we were what kind of a world do you think this would be?

  • I agree with Dave that the GOP is setting itself up for a loss next year, but it’s not exclusively about social hot buttons like gay rights or abortion.

    Polls also show that substantial majorities of the public, including at least pluralities of Republicans, are far from enthusiastic about the drastic spending cuts being discussed by GOP House members [and by Dave Nalle]. There are a lot of people [not just “leftists”!] who would favor raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes as part of the tool kit to help ease the deficit.

    Placing tax increases off the table is a minority view, and not the magic vote winner the GOP seems to think. And many economists warn that sudden immediate spending cuts could derail the fragile economic recovery and cost jobs. They counsel us that the cuts should indeed come, but later, not right away.

    A lot of Americans [incorrectly I think] believed Obama overreached during his first two years with the stimulus, health care, and auto bailouts among other things.

    Even more Americans are on the verge of deciding Republicans are overreaching now, on spending, on taxes, on attacking public employee unions. These are the “principled” stands Dave wants to see advanced. But they may well be election losers, especially if they continue to be handled as clumsily as they have been recently.

  • Glenn Contrarian


    Everyone is a fringe to someone, and I suspect everyone sees themselves and their positions as ‘moderate’ and ‘reasoned.’

    Even the genuine nutjobs like Fred Phelps or Saul Alinsky.

    It’s just human nature to assume the majority share your values…or should share them. (just because it’s natural, of course, does not make it so.)

    Quoted for truth!

  • Mr. Paul is saying that each state has the ability to choose to be pro or anti-gay marriage. It’s unfair to say that he’s contradicting himself.

    Ah, another of the Ron-Paul-can-do-no-wrong crowd…

    How is Dave’s criticism unfair, Duke? Paul has come out in support of DOMA, which is federal legislation. Under the Supremacy Clause, federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict. Therefore, DOMA prevails over any state law which permits marriage in a form other than one-man-one-woman.

    In order not to be contradicting himself, Paul would have had to have criticized DOMA and come out in support of a piece of actual or proposed Iowa legislation.

  • Cannonshop

    Everyone is a fringe to someone, and I suspect everyone sees themselves and their positions as ‘moderate’ and ‘reasoned.’

    Even the genuine nutjobs like Fred Phelps or Saul Alinsky.

    It’s just human nature to assume the majority share your values…or should share them. (just because it’s natural, of course, does not make it so.)

  • Baronius

    Joseph – Thanks for answering, although I don’t think much of your answer.

    Your definition of the fringe lumps a lot of people together. You put pro-lifers in the same camp as Free Republic people. If you see them as the same, I can understand not trying to build bridges. But that definition covers a lot of area. Mark Kirk opposes internet gambling, and John McCain favors overturning Roe v. Wade. Do you want a Republican Party substantially to the left of them? But Collins and Snowe voted in support of ARRA, President Obama’s stimulus package, which I’m sure you opposed. Maybe your winning coalition is to be found in the area between Kirk and Snowe? That doesn’t help your claim that you represent the party’s uniters. You also seem to reject the tea partiers. How do you anticipate promoting fiscal responsibility without them?

    You haven’t come to terms with the truth that by and large, social conservatives are more loyally fiscally conservative than social moderates. There’s a mirror image pattern among the liberals, too.

  • Duke

    Mr. Paul is saying that each state has the ability to choose to be pro or anti-gay marriage. It’s unfair to say that he’s contradicting himself. His comments to Iowans enforce their right to vote about this for themselves, rather than it being an all or nothing enforcement by the Executive and Judicial branches across the country.

  • I want to get both state and federal government out of marriage altogether because it is an unnecessary, divisive issue that shouldn’t be part of politics.

    A 2004 state voter-approved amendment defines marriage for governmental purposes to only man/woman couples.

    I ran for legislature last year.

    First of all, I reminded people that there is no “ban on gay marriage”; i.e. the entire police dept. can attend a full gay wedding ceremony performed in public with no state marriage certificate, and have no basis for arrests.

    I told conservatives that keeping government involved in marriage will backfire, with voters eventually requiring churches to perform gay marriages to keep tax-exempt status. I said that I would vote to overturn the voter-approved amendment and introduce a bill to eliminate the state marriage certificate entirely.

    I told liberals that marriage equality can be achieved immediately, making all people and relationships equal by eliminating what makes them unequal – the marriage license. I said that I would vote to overturn the voter-approved amendment and introduce a bill to eliminate the state marriage certificate entirely.

    If asked about my personal life and practice, I say that I will not file a marriage certificate with the state, and I will only be part of a church that teaches biblical marriage, and I explain my reasons to fellow Christians, but I encourage them to oppose any efforts to legislate this view of marriage through government.

    Is this contradictory or convoluted?

    In the legislature or congress, how would I vote on each of the laws that Paul mentions in order to maintain this position?

    How might I talk about the subject at a conservative convention?

  • roger,

    I would say that I share the same center-right political philosophy with more of my fellow Republicans than you might imagine. We are very rarely heard from in the media, however, because most of the flamethrowers harbor a ceaseless desire to control virtually all of the so-called “conservative” dialogue. They usually succeed because we rational Republicans are not, by our very nature for the most part, prone to conflict. Most of us, at least from my experience, would much rather come to a mutual agreement with our counterparts across the aisle than engage in senseless, vile, and destructive banter.


    I wholeheartedly agree with you about telling unprincipled political shape-shifters who masquerade as “moderates” in order to win elections to take a hike, so to speak. They are a blight of the most grotesque sort on both of our nation’s major political parties and deserve to be regarded as such. One of the main reasons I opposed Charlie Crist’s campaign for the U.S. Senate here in Florida last year is because of his total lack of a guiding purpose in politics. Though persons of his nature may individually hold different stances from one another on several key issues, they all share the common bond of producing absolutely nothing of substance while in public office. As such, there is no conceivable reason for the general public to continue electing them other than to perpetuate a plethora of ego trips which have already long since spun out of control.

  • I’m pretty much with Joseph in #21, but I suspect that there are also moderates who are willing to compromise on vital principles who I would rule out as net negatives for the party and not to be countenanced.

    Absolutist fanatics are unacceptable, but so are those who have no principles at all except for reelection.


  • Very sensible analysis, Mr. Cotto. One wonders, though, judging by the amount of posturing from our politicians whether you’re not talking about a quickly disappearing breed. If more than ten percent of the American population subscribes to this brand of republicanism, I should say I’d eat my hat. So the question is, to what extent your textbook definition reflects the living reality?

  • Baronius and Glenn,

    As a center-right Republican, that being one in the old Nelson Rockefeller school of fiscal conservatism merged with social centrism, I find the “fringe” and the “mainstream” quite easy to distinguish from one another.

    The “fringe” tends to favor social policies which intervene in the private lives of their fellow Americans; whether it be the criminalization of online poker or decisions regarding women’s reproductive matters. As if this were not bad enough, they articulate their already extreme positions by way of, more often than not, vulgar shouting matches and pseudo-religious screeds. One need only log on to popular far-right discussion forums, such as Free Republic or Red State, to see exactly what I am talking about. Also, an infrequent listen to certain talk radio programs should provide deep insight on the state of mind shared by many rightist hardliners. Unlike their counterparts on the left, they often seem incoherent and vaguely informed about the subjects which they are ranting and raving. This is why many in the Silent Majority sometimes refer to the GOP as the “Stupid Party”; because a great deal of its core base derives its opinions from the tangents of entertainers and reflect the radicalism espoused by these smear merchants while discussing politics in otherwise tame settings.

    The “mainstream”, meanwhile, usually disregards the ramblings of shock jocks and is far more likely to receive the vast majority of its information on political happenings from a newspaper, the evening news, or periodicals such as the National Review. Very rarely do its members engage in raucous public activities or impose their respective viewpoints on others. When pressed, and the keyword here being pressed as many do not favor discussing partisan affairs in otherwise apolitical settings, about their views, they will more often than not present them in a compact, non-combative manner, and quickly attempt to change the conversation due to fears of offending others. They will almost always consider pragmatic approaches to solving governmental problems and are prone to feel more concerned about fiscal, rather than social, issues.

    To specifically address Baronius’s concern about my not being receptive towards the idea of building bridges with the “fringe”, that is because the “fringe” will accept no bridges to its increasingly isolated island unless said bridges are built exclusively on its terms. It must be remembered that the “fringe” did not earn its namesake by acting rationally. As for Reagan’s 11th commandment, Gerald Ford learned exactly all that was worth the hard way; by being a victim of an anti-moderate Republican non-endorsement campaign initiated by the Gipper himself after the latter emerged the loser of the 1976 Republican National Convention. Ronnie’s third-grade approach to politics, many historians agree, caused Ford the general election and essentially ushered in the Peanut Man. Absolutely sickening, but to be fully expected of the absolutist wing of the GOP.

  • The loons lips are moving. The good guys have yet to speak.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave and Joseph –

    Baronius asked an intriguing question – how do each of you distinguish the loons from the good guys in the GOP? I realize that you both have different views, so I’d like to hear from both of you.

  • Baronius

    Again, Joseph, you fail to identify what distinguishes the loons from the good guys. Is it issues? If so, which ones? Is it style? Because I don’t see you or Dave mending any fences. You guys violate the 11th Commandment as much as anyone.

  • Dave,

    Your observations are both keen and, at least for the time being, unfortunately true. This is, I believe, the best of your articles which I have ever read. On the flip-side of this unfolding mess, however, I can see Romney or Daniels gaining a substantial amount of appeal amongst center-right and libertarian Republicans. Perhaps, in the months ahead, this will be enough to overcome the loons who are currently enjoying their day in the sun.

  • Costello

    Angle didn’t lose because of her abortion position. It’s because she came off like a screwball every time she opened her mouth

  • Another crap article from Nalle. Not only have you spun an issue totally out of context but you’ve succeeded in looking like a purely biased partisan hack. Obama will lose to any NON-RINO GOP candidate. He’s lied about everything including DOMA…

    JP, the polling in no way supports your assertion. That may change, but right now most of the candidates can’t beat Obama and the RINOs do considerably better than the more principled candidates. So this is a real concern.


  • Baronius

    “little was said regarding the social agenda of Republicans during the mid-term election campaigns”

    That doesn’t sound right. A lot of the anger about the health care reform bill was directed at potential taxpayer funding of abortion. I think that all the new senators are pro-life. Some candidates won or lost on the basis of social issues: McMahon never got conservative support, for example, and Angle didn’t do well among independents. The last election’s results don’t lead to easy generalizations.

    Anyway, wasn’t the left insisting that the tea parties were secretly about race, and that Beck and Palin were religious crusaders? It seems like the left was trying to use those claims as scare tactics. Either they’ve forgotten that because they never really believed it, or because they learned their lesson, or because they’re even more afraid to spin 2010 as a loss to social conservatives than to spin it as a loss to fiscal conservatives.

  • Costello

    Good piece. Being against gay marriage might earn short term gains, like being against mixed marriages used to, but it’s a long term loser for Repubs

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Now that I think about it, I think you’re right.

    JP –

    Obama will lose to any NON-RINO GOP candidate. He’s lied about everything including DOMA….

    It’s replies like this that make me chuckle down to my liberal bones. Please, oh please let there be a ‘non-RINO’ GOP candidate like Haley Barbour or Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich – or best of all, Sistah Sarah! It surely wouldn’t be the reverse of 1972, but IMO more likely the reverse of 1984….

  • I would happen to agree, but aren’t you discounting Wisconsin?

  • JP in clt

    Another crap article from Nalle. Not only have you spun an issue totally out of context but you’ve succeeded in looking like a purely biased partisan hack. Obama will lose to any NON-RINO GOP candidate. He’s lied about everything including DOMA….

  • I largely agree with Dave’s assessment on this. Little was said regarding the social agenda of Republicans during the mid-term election campaigns, yet now, as the various state legislators, governors and members of Congress who rode in on the fiscal conservative wave set in motion by the Tea Party tsunami, many have set out to push forward their conservative social agenda. While all the hoopla continues regarding union busting and reductions in government spending, anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation is being quietly run through various state houses and at least toyed with in Congress. The Indiana House just passed legislation to enact a constitutional ammendment against same sex unions which will more than likely pass in the Senate and get Governor Daniel’s signature despite his desire to separate himself from all this. It will almost certainly get voter approval.

    However, all of this may well backfire on them as the 2012 election approaches – at least at the national level. They are already seeing that their anti-union agenda has more opposition than they anticipated. The 2012 presidential election will likely be much closer than the 2008 version. Should these issues disaffect even a relatively small # of independents, the Reps, regardless of who runs, may well wind up on the short end of the stick.

    It is historically difficult to unseat an incumbant candidate. Obama will be incredibly well funded and has his election team already at work in Chicago. At this point, there is not one declared Rep candidate. A # of possible candidates are apparently calculating the odds. A year or so ago, Reps could hardly contain themselves in their assumption that Obama was dead meat. Whoever runs, should he or she lose, their opportunity could well be gone. Things change.


  • Actually, Glenn, Dave voted for Paul on the grounds that he saw him as the best of a bad bunch. I don’t think he went so far as to give him his wholehearted support, though. He was highly critical of Paul even then.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    D.A. and Baronius –

    IIRC during the 2008 election season, Dave supported Ron Paul, and one reason why was his support of gay rights. I think his article is written largely out of disappointment in Paul.

    So I’d lay off Dave – I’d be saying the same thing if Obama were allowing himself to have some of his most important positions changed just to be able to win in the primaries. To be sure, there’s much he hasn’t done (and won’t do) that I wish he would…but I suspect that no one here really wants to hear about that….

  • Paul is a disappointment on this issue. Gary Johnson defends civil unions in his campaign platform.

  • Baronius

    Also, Dave, I looked over the polling reports that you linked to. You did something very deceptive. Your whole article was about gay marriage, except where you cited polls. Then you switched to gay marriage + civil unions, apparently because that would make your numbers higher. In point of fact, the statistics don’t argue strongly for any one position, as “gay marriage”, “civil union”, and “no recognition” each failed to garner 50% among any group. The biggest outlier was the low support (under 10%) for gay marriage among Republicans.

  • Baronius

    So, social conservatives are opportunistic, but social moderates are principled. I guess that means that everyone, in their hearts, is socially moderate. The moderates follow the strength of their beliefs, while the conservatives sell out their moderate beliefs out of opportunism.

    But, according to this article, social conservatism is a losing strategy. So that would indicate that the moderates are opportunistic, and the conservatives are so principled that they’re willing to lose for their beliefs.

    Or, maybe their is no universally agreed upon strategy for winning, and no reason to question the motives of those who hold different positions.

  • JonJohn

    I’m a Democrat, and I suppose the Republicans are saying the same thing about us.

  • D.A.

    Nice bit of anti-Paul disinfo, Mr. Nalle. Well done, as usual.