What social conservatives must do now
Concessions must be made. And new strategies must be tested.
Republicans need to bury Roy Moore's brand of social conservatism.
At a time when Christian conservatives are trying to carve out a space to live out their faith in a society without a moral consensus that reflects — or even understands — their values, there is no place for candidates like Roy Moore who want to simply turn their religious views into laws.
That doesn't mean Christian conservatives have to become anarchists. Nor does it mean their faith should not in any way shape what they believe the government should do. If you believe abortion constitutes the unjust taking of innocent human life, then you must work to persuade your countrymen to agree. Government exists to protect such innocents. The fact that certain family forms are more consistent with Christian teachings than others should not prevent you from, say, advocating family-friendly tax reforms that you think promote the common good.
But you cannot simultaneously petition the Supreme Court to protect the religious liberty of bakers who do not wish to make cakes for same-sex weddings while supporting candidates for public office who want to revive anti-sodomy laws that make same-sex intercourse illegal.
You cannot simultaneously advocate for the religious liberty of evangelical Christians and traditionalist Catholics who do not wish to be coerced into funding abortifacients while at the same time arguing that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress.
You cannot want the Religious Freedom Restoration Act only for Memories Pizza and Masterpiece Cakeshop but no one else.
You cannot advocate for a robust place for Christianity in the public square while suggesting fellow social conservatives should avoid voting for Mormon candidates.
It's true that in 2017, Moore is an extreme outlier on some of these issues. But the old-school Christian right frequently has had a tendency to emphasize remoralizing American culture over the religious freedoms of its supporters. And plenty of grassroots pro-life and pro-family advocates supported Moore in his Alabama Senate campaign.
At a time when more of the country shared their basic moral values, that was workable even if problematic. In an era when they don't, it is not even practical.
It becomes even worse when the political champions of social conservatives don't live up to the values they want to impose on everyone else. It is unlikely Moore would have come up short in Alabama — he only lost by 1.5 points — if he hadn't been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was a single man in his 30s.
President Trump, who has never represented himself as a choirboy or a moral crusader, has nevertheless linked himself politically to evangelicals while promising to protect Christianity's cultural preeminence.
When Bill Clinton engaged in bad behavior and was not removed from office, the late social conservative leader Paul Weyrich openly wondered if there was a "Moral Majority" in America anymore. Now the same Trump we heard engaging in disgusting talk on the Access Hollywood tape is viewed as the voice of the "Silent Majority."
Make no mistake: Trump is genuinely better on the legitimate issues of public concern social conservatives care about than his Democratic political opponents. He is also more likely to defend conservative Christians' religious liberty as some secular liberals are beginning to adopt a more limited understanding of that concept.
I don't believe social conservatives should unilaterally disarm on abortion or religious liberty. I do, however, believe they cannot rail against indecency only when Democrats are in office.
Christian conservative politics are going to have to become more defensive and liberty-focused while Christian evangelism should shift its attention on how non-Christians live. The former is especially the case if social conservatives are going to have to embrace flawed candidates who do not publicly live out the virtues conservatives extol.
Nobody is perfect. If you are never a hypocrite, your moral standards are probably too low. But Trump is at best a difficult case and Moore is totally discrediting.
A society changing as rapidly as ours needs a viable social conservatism. That is best achieved by saying goodbye to candidates in the mold of Moore.