How will pleasing the base get GOP candidates in trouble with the general electorate?

Since I started a similar thread for Dem candidates and their base, a GOP thread along the same lines seemed in order.

The basic question is: what positions will GOP candidates feel compelled to take in order to placate their base, that will make it difficult for them to win the general election?

I can think of a few.

Iraq. The GOP base still supports the war, by a somewhat shrinking, but still hefty, margin. Huckabee’s against the war, and is otherwise a good fit with the base, and a lot of good it’s done him. The GOP base simply isn’t interested in a candidate who thinks it’s time to withdraw from Iraq. But a solid majority of Americans want us to be out of Iraq in the not too distant future.

Immigration. Bush’s immigration bill has died at the hands of the GOP base, which would love to build a high-tech Great Wall of China along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. McCain’s support of Bush’s bill is really hurting him with the base. Most Americans aren’t sure what the proper approach to immigration is, but they’re looking for something a good deal less hostile to immigration from Latin America than the GOP is.

Global Warming. The GOP base’s continual ridicule of those concerned about global warming, and its total uninterest in doing anything about it, may not make the A-list here, but most Americans recognize global warming as a problem that our government needs to address. GOP candidates will probably finesse this by saying as little about GW as they can get away with between now and the selection of a nominee. Next year, that may be enough to hurt them: people have seen how little Bush’s lip-service about global warming has amounted to.

Kowtowing to the fundies. The ritual visits by McCain to Falwell U., Giuliani and Romney to Pat Robertson U., and Gingrich to James Dobson’s radio show (he doesn’t have a university), are all about placating the base, but don’t go over well with most Americans.

Same answer applies to both threads: Neither party has to worry much about appealing to those who self-identify with it. Such a small fraction of either are really a “threat” to go over that it would be foolish to focus on them. There are more independents than either party’s membership, and that’s who decides elections. Look at what the inepdendents are looking for, not the base memberships - and virtually all the polls have them aligning with Democratic policies, not Republican ones.

To your specific question here, though, it’s “all of the above, and then some”.

One thing about Republicans pleasing their base that can get them into trouble in the general electorate is with regards to social conservatism.

Let me explain: 25+ years ago, part of why the Democrat’s appeal was wearing thin was that they were perceived to be pandering. To all the “left-outs”, behaving superficially as if they cared about solving this or that out-group’s problems when what they were actually doing was throwing a bit of money their way, essentially buying their votes cheap, and not doing much for them legislatively or programmatically. Kissing up to the unions as if the unions were all squeaky-clean defenders of the worker and none of them exploiting the workforce alongside of the corporate suits. The Republicans, on the other hand, seemed to believe what they said, and to stand for what they claimed to stand for.

I think to an ever-increasing degree, the Republicans are now perceived as not believing in much of the “morals” / “family values” / social conservative bullshit they throw around; they’re perceived as doing it cynically. And while I suppose there are a few folks out there who would be more comfortable with power being in the hands of a cynical pretender of the Jerry Falwell ilk than a zealous true-believer of the Billy Graham sort, I think the trend is very much in the other direction, and that this is going to hurt the GOP: they more they kiss up to the Bible-belt social conservatives in order to solidify the base on those so-called “red meat” issues, the more the independents are going to perceive them as liars and manipulators, as politicians who can’t be trusted to follow through on campaign promises. And I think this is particularly true in this election cycle, where so many of the strongest GOP candidates have only a shaky claim at best to any kind of sincere social conservative mantle.

At this point in history, I just assume anyone attempting to use those phrases is in reality having weekly cocaine/prostitute/gay blood orgies which would make the Marquis de Sade blush. It’s worked so far.

The base opposes stem cell research, wants abortions stopped, and opposes gay marriage. All three issues have widespread public support, so pandering to the base on these issues hurts Republicans.

But more importantly is the sense of priority that the base forces them into. Reagan claimed to be a religious conservative, but it was never a heavy focus of his administration. The Republicans in the 1990’s still pandered to the religious right, but they really didn’t do a lot about it. But as Jay Danforth (Republican Senator and Minister - presided over Reagan’s funeral) said, in the 1980’s and 1990’s the Republicans were too busy with issues like the economy and the cold war to spend a whole lot of time on these issues. They paid lip service to the base, but governed responsibly and spent most of their time on the important issues of the day.

So it’s a matter of judgement and priority. If Republicans pander to the base by simply claiming to be Christian and thank God in speeches, no one will particularly care. On the other hand, if they act like the last batch of Republicans and spend their days in government debating the Ten Commandments, opposing scientific research, working to get creationism put in the schools, interjecting themselves into the medical choices of the family of a woman in a vegetative state, and banning gay marriage, they’ll not only piss off people who disagree with those policies, they’ll piss off people who think their priorities are completely out of whack.

There’s a way they can please the base and get widespread public support: Focus on smaller government. The base likes low-tax, pro-business, pro-growth politicians. Pander to the religious side, but govern as principled economic conservatives while staying away from the social issues as much as possible. That will mollify the base and have wide support in the general population.

I think the Republicans have two bases. Potentially at least.

They have the hardcore, fundie, anti-abortion/stem cell, family values crowd. A dwindling minority and not enough for them to win.

I also think they could have a much larger base, if they’d soften their stance on some things. Admit that Iraq has become a clusterfuck and propose a reasonable exit strategy. Don’t kowtow to the fundies, they don’t need to abandon them, but don’t let them write the whole platform. They could make gains on environmental issues and… first amendment issues too.

I think there are a lot of traditionally republican voters who don’t see all these issues as black or white. If they’d reach out to the Pubs who are simply tired of Bush, but still right wing at heart, I think they could win even.

The worry is not that they’ll “go over”, but that they’ll stay home. With 50% of the country not voting, the margin of victory can come from getting people off their couches just as well as enticing definite but undecided voters. Those non-voters include a big portion of each party’s potential “base” who just don’t feel like it makes much difference whether they vote or not.

In the 2000 Presidential race, progressives–who should be part of the Democratic base–felt ignored entirely, as it was hard to find a genuinely progressive stance in Gore’s entire platform. (Gore has plenty of progressive cred now, but 2000 was a different story.) A lot of them stayed home, and a lot of them went for Nader.

In 2004 the self-described independents broke well in Kerry’s favor, and the Democratic base was relatively inspired by their desire to get Bush out of office. But they were no match for the strength and organization of the GOP base, bolstered by Bush’s terrorism rhetoric (which was still going over well at the time) and by the various anti-gay amendments.

A lot of people say that the Terri Schiavo fracas hurt the relationship between the GOP and its base. On the one hand, they did a lot of things trying to please the worst aspects of their base that pretty much everybody else found repulsive. On the other, their unwillingness to send in the National Guard to re-insert the feeding tube suggested that they probably didn’t think it was equivalent to cold-blooded murder after all, and that perhaps they were pandering.

Whatever the reason, the base just wasn’t as fired up in the 2006 Congressional and state races, and the Democrats ran the table.

How is it going to work in 2008? The problem is that the top-tier GOP candidates (save Thompson) feel like they have to go a long way to prove their bona fides to the base, so I expect we’ll see a lot more rightward pandering from them in the months preceding the primaries than we’ll see leftward pandering from the Dems.

I don’t think gay marriage has majority support yet, and if the majority is outraged by state laws (e.g. Virginia’s) that ban practically any legal contract between the members of a gay couple, even if those same contracts would be valid between random strangers, that outrage has yet to manifest itself in obvious ways at election time. With abortion laws, it kinda depends on the law. But you’re right about stem cell research.

In the 1980s, the religious wingnuts were happy just to have a place at the table. But one thing Pat Robertson’s outfit, the Christian Coalition, did, was to organize the takeover of state Republican party organizations by the fundies. This started maybe around 1989, and continued through the 1990s.

Increasingly during that time period, the GOP became their party, organizationally speaking. They provide the foot soldiers, the precinct workers. Rove’s GOTV drive among fundies put Bush over the top in 2004: Kerry got easily more votes than any Presidential candidate before 2004, but Bush got even more, and a good deal of that was Rove’s squeezing every last vote possible out of the religious wingnuts.

The non-fundies in the GOP can start their own party more easily than a GOP Presidential candidate can just give lip-service to the fundies.

The problem is, there’s also the ‘money base’ of the GOP. The GOP’s done its best to turn the government into a big patronage machine: subsidies for favored businesses, ditto Federal contracts. (That’s the genius of contracting out Federal functions: you can’t legally put ‘your’ people in career Civil Service positions, but if you contract out their responsibilities, you can steer the contract to ‘your’ people.) Running on smaller government…well, you can make all the right noises, I suppose, and it might fool people long enough to win one more election. But no Republican President is going to stop the flow of goodies to favored corporations.

The 800 pound gorilla is Iraq. Even if in 2008 a majority of Republicans are still drinking Bush’s koolaid, that isn’t going to be enough to win. Far short in fact. If the nominee supports the war, independent voters are going to be pushing each other out of the way in their rush to get in the voting booth and voting for the Democratic nominee. The GOP has already lost the 2008 election.

Lip service I agree with. But really how much time out of the day did it take to cut taxes irresponsibly and rack up obscene deficits? How much time did it take to say “yes” to every request of the military-industrial complex? And if Iran-Contra is an example of responsible governing I’ll take anarchy please.

That would risk alienating their real base – the business interests – which are sympathetic to such views in principle but which also have a vested interest in fat government contracts, subsidies and bailouts.

Actually, the well-funded ACC-denial machine has been more successful here than you might think – see the cover story in this week’s Newsweek:

I’m going to disagree with this to say that both parties have to worry about the appeal to self identified members. Not that they would switch parties, but there’s a pretty significant risk they would just stay home on election day.