He must appeal to the fiscally and socially conservative.
You can understand the fine political line Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence is trying to walk by looking at the members of the team of policy advisers he has assembled. There is someone who advised President George W. Bush on social and religious issues. There are business-minded allies of Gov. Mitch Daniels. There is a member of the Federalist Society, a group devoted to strongly decentralizing political power.
Pence is doing what must to woo the two main Republican factions – the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives. He cannot win without both groups, so he must appeal to both. And because the alliance between them is sometimes fragile, Pence has to be careful he doesn’t twist himself into a political pretzel.
It can be done. Pence is right to focus primarily on economic issues. For one thing, that’s uppermost in Hoosiers’ minds during this weak recovery. For another, the economy can more realistically be placed in the governor’s job description. It’s tougher to say his job should involve our personal moral decisions.
But Pence doesn’t have to go as far as Daniels did when he said that fiscal issues were so important that conservatives should call a moratorium on social issues. The social issues can be introduced subtlety and elegantly as one part of conservatism’s overall message. Pence seems to be on the right track with his linking of a healthy economy and healthy families – in fact, they reinforce each other.
One thing he should not do in trying to broaden conservatism’s appeal is invent clever terms for concepts that sound good but don’t make any logical sense. It is not a good sign that the adviser who helped Bush define “compassionate conservatism” is on the team.
That is the most ill-advised Republican initiative since Richard Nixon’s revenue sharing. It buys into the slur that conservatives lack heart – if you have to designate a group of conservatives as compassionate, then ordinary, run-of-the-mill conservatism must not be compassionate.
But of course it is. Conservative policies lead to more people with productive, self-sufficient lives. It is liberal policy, the aim of which is to keep people in a state of perpetual dependence, that is not compassionate. Think liberals would ever buy into the right’s vision of them by coming up with a movement called “thinking liberalism”?
Pence should know – and we suspect he does – that compassionate conservatism did damage to the GOP brand and even hurt the mission of conservatism. “Compassionate” conservatives are just as willing as progressives to spend too much money and make government too big. If you want to understand the genesis of the tea party, you need to look a little further back than Barack Obama.