Talking Points

Social conservatives are making the same mistake Paul Ryan did

The new Texas abortion law, possibly coming soon to a red state near you, offers a glimpse into a Republican Party in which social conservatives dominate the coalition. For years, they have perceived themselves to be the junior partners to economic conservatives, who got their tax cuts, deregulation, and slow-walking of the welfare state while the Supreme Court, with no shortage of GOP-appointed justices, forbade school prayer and discovered new constitutional rights to abortion and gay marriage.

Libertarians roll their eyes at this description, if only to avert their gaze from endlessly rising federal spending and debt. The New Deal and the Great Society, or for that matter ObamaCare, have proven just as impervious to Republican rule as Roe v. Wade. But social conservatives, who are thicker on the ground than Social Security privatizers, have become newly assertive. If handled with a deft enough touch, this revitalization could help bring about the multiracial working-class GOP that pundits liked to talk about after last year's election, when even in defeat the outlines of a more successful coalition were apparent. But social conservatives must take the right lesson from their economically conservative brethren. 

Many people value work, wish the government (and their household) would live within its means, and don't want their money forcibly transferred to the indolent. But when this was built out into a program with the specificity of Paul Ryan's Roadmap, seen as an attempt to shrink the welfare state down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub, some of these same libertarian-sounding Tea Partiers balked. Dudes in Hayek neckties did not constitute a majority.

A critical mass of voters with moral qualms about abortion, respect for religion and traditional gender roles, and even reservations about drag queen story hour might similarly stop short of endorsing abortion-related lawsuits against unsuspecting Uber drivers, much less the full "common good" roadmap-equivalent of some social conservative elites.

Economic conservatism stalled not just because Republicans aren't principled enough but also because its most sweeping proposals weren't popular enough. Social conservatism must be aimed at more than Twitter trad bros to avoid a comparable fate.