I'm scratching my head about the surge of Santorum in the polls nationally. Yes, he's the latest not-Romney, and yes, even I admitted that he was the best debater later of the Romney-Gingrich-Santorum trifecta.
But now that he has the lead, Santorum has felt comfortable being… well, Santorum, and pushing the "values" agenda. He suffers from the same delusion that most ultra-conservatives suffer from: he thinks everybody in the United States believes as he does. (That's the problem with living in a bubble and surrounding yourself with the same people who hold the same narrow-minded views — you kid yourself into thinking your views are universally held).
But even a political neophyte could surmise that you don't win elections by catering to the people who are going to vote for you anyway! You need to get the fence-sitters, the moderates, the independents. And Santorum, with his religious "values" agenda, just isn't reaching them.
Santorum is out there. I mean, we all knew he was anti-choice on the abortion issue, so let's not act all surprised about that. But now he is speaking out against pre-natal testing, a routine procedure used to identify potential problems in utero.
Which begs the question: what is he thinking? Does he — or anyone on his staff — read the polls? They must, and yet, it doesn't seem to matter. This has prompted at least one person to speculate:
How badly do the Republicans want to win the White House? I suspect they don't. Nor do I think they are particularly worried about the dire state of the economy and the lingering recession.
What they care about is theocracy, not freedom. They want to score moral points with the Religious Right, more than they want to win votes from the bulk of the voters in the independent center.
Consider that in Virginia the Republicans are pushing a law that defines "personhood" as beginning at conception. Come census time they are going to have to hire gynecologists, not census takers.
Oklahoma Republicans are pushing to grant an "unborn child at every stage of development all the rights, privileges and immunities to other persons, citizens, and residents of the state." If that passes an embryo will have more rights than a gay resident. These measures are meant to make all abortions illegal — a position endorsed by virtually every Republican presidential candidate, including the "libertarian" Ron Paul.
Yet, only 22% of Americans believe abortion should be restricted in all cases. Yes, Americans are divided on abortion, but the divide is only about whether there are some cases where it should be restricted, not whether it should be illegal. Only 27% of Americans want it illegal under all circumstances while 61% say it should be legal under most circumstances. The Republicans are pushing an agenda of a very small minority of the population.
As the numbers of self-identified Republicans and Democrats shrink, more people identify as independents. That means the election of either party depends on that growing center block. But, that block is far more pro-choice than the Republicans, and only slightly less than Democrats. Where 34% of Republicans want abortion banned in all circumstances, only 18% of independents do. The GOP isn't even representing their own members — they are entirely beholden to a tiny minority of religious fanatics, who they call "their base."
Similarly, they are pushing to repeal marriage equality rights for gay couples in New Hampshire. Who are the Republicans representing? It sure isn't the average resident of the state. Only 29% of New Hampshire residents think marriage equality should be repealed. Only 14% said they are more likely to support a candidate who is anti-equality, while 44% said they are more likely to vote against them. Even on this issue, only a minority of Republicans supports the party position — 45%. As for those necessary independent voters, only 29% favor repeal, while 64% oppose the Republican effort.
This sort of divide is apparent at the national level as well. A Gallup poll from last May showed a majority of Americans support marriage equality. This is true even though the more "conservative" regions, the South and Midwest, are included in the average. And, among independents voters, support for marriage equality is higher than the average — 59%. Given that this poll is almost a year old, and that recent state polls show support increasing, it is likely that support among independents is now in the mid 60s.
The agenda of the organized Religious Right, the old Moral Majority, simply doesn't appeal to the majority of voters. It barely has sufficient support with the Republican Party, but this radical fringe manages to hold the party hostage — a similar thing is true about the Democrats as well, though with different special interests.
If the Republicans are at risk of losing the votes of crucial independents, because of their Big Government social agenda, then precisely what is it that they count on to win the White House?
Sadly, the Republicans are not trying to win the soft libertarian middle. They feel they can win simply by NOT BEING Democrats. The Republicans are counting on widespread discontent with Obama to win them the White House. Just as four years ago, the Democrats were swept into power because they weren't George Bush and the Republicans.
The question for the Republicans is whether the disgust voters feel for Obama is less than the disgust they feel for the eventual Republican candidate. That's a toss-up. It is obvious, however, that a Santorum nomination, would probably push independents and libertarian-leaning voters away from the Republican Party. Independents may hold their nose and vote for Obama, while libertarians might abstain or vote third party. If the Libertarian Party has the sense to nominate Gov. Gary Johnson — and they too have a fringe to deal with that will try to scuttle that nomination — they might actually reap vote totals that haven't seen since they ran Ed Clark in 1980.
But, one thing is clear, the agenda of the Republican Party today is focusing heavily on issues that alienate critical Independent voters. This may be intentional, or just a collective stupidity on the part of Republican candidates. Whatever it is, it is not a strategy geared toward winning independent votes to the GOP, and without them "the base" of fundamentalist wackos won't be enough to save the Republicans.
Long-term this strategy is a Republican death wish. These social values are held mainly by older voters, not the young, which means support is literally dying on a daily basis. And, religious fundamentalists are in demographic decline as well. "The base" is a shrinking one, making independents, libertarians, and the young more critical to the Republicans with each passing election.
All I can think of is Cheney talking about "death throes". Is this what we are seeing?