Talking Points

Republicans are beating liberals at their own game of fighting 'for the children'

"For the children" has been one of the most used phrases in politics for decades, often in support of liberal policies. But lately, it's become the defining characteristic of arguments made by social conservatives.

After all, social conservatives want everything from the tax code to the design of the welfare state to make it easier for adults to have children. Their arguments for the Florida parental rights bill and state-level transgender athletes legislation focus on protecting children from premature conversations about sex and perceived fairness in youth sports. The doomed case against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson hinged on her child pornography sentencing record. And of course, many Republicans entered politics in the first place to prevent what they regard as the legal killing of unborn children in the womb by abortion.

Republicans have tried their hand at this before — remember No Child Left Behind? — with mixed results. But some of the most effective arguments for unwinding COVID protocols concerned the harm to children from excessive school closures and prolonged masking. It has helped reinforce the conservative framing of the school choice debate as one pitting the interests of unionized teachers, a major Democratic constituency, against children.

Liberals can reject this messaging as prejudicial or even wrong. Obviously, no one positions themselves as for the billionaires and against working families. Similarly, no winning political cause is going to present itself as anti-child. The brief against social conservatives, especially, is that they are only for a very specific version of the family and some of the aforementioned bills are often described as even targeting or attacking children. Policies that promote the formation of nuclear families with children can easily attract the opposition of everyone else.

But it is a more attractive packaging for social conservatism than the religious fanaticism its opponents tend to brand it with — and harder to push back against. The woke Left has its own moral busybody problem that makes it more challenging to label social conservatives as uniquely prudish or censorious. And trying to portray concerns about children and sex as some kind of QAnon/Pizzagate fixation is going to look unhinged. Angry parents are, for now, a major part of the GOP coalition.