Then came social issues and ‘morality’…

March 8, 2011

RTR2CNMS_Comp-150x150The Tea Party’s November victories and the ensuing Republican drive for spending cuts are in large part the result of a political strategy that focuses tightly on fiscal and economic matters, while minimizing rhetoric on moral questions and social topics. But for how much longer can Republicans keep a lid on the culture war?

The 2012 presidential race, though lacking in declared GOP candidates, may be about to pry open a Pandora’s box bearing the name of social issues that have long divided Republican and independent ranks. And such an occurrence could work against the interests of fiscal conservatives, just as the GOP girds itself for a showdown with Democrats over spending cuts and the debt ceiling later this spring.RTXXP42_Comp-150x150

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, one of those Republicans who are running for president without actually running for president, tells NBC’s Today show that social conservatism is what built America and made it strong.

And if a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 65 percent of GOP primary voters preferring candidates who focus more on the economy and the deficit, and less on social issues?   ”I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he replies.

Even the battle of the budget shows signs of becoming a Republican morality fight.

RTXXR6Q_Comp-150x150Here’s Santorum speaking to social conservatives in Iowa: “…if what we’re doing to the next generation of America, this entitlement attitude, if that is not a moral issue, I don’t know what is…”

And Newt Gingrich: “…balancing the budget is an essentially moral, not economic question…”

And TimPawlenty: “…we have a problem in Washington, D.C. We have some of the leaders there who believe the enormous immoral debt in our country doesn’t matter. It matters…”

But there’s no need to stop at old-fashioned political moralizing.

As it’s been said, everything changed after 9/11. And that goes for social issues, too, especially America’s relations with its own Muslim community, a hot-button social issue that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King will put front and center on Thursday with a hearing that has already attracted a firestorm of criticism from those who contend the proceedings will spread fear and bigotry. RTR16HDD_Comp-150x150

By some accounts, fallout from the King hearing is also threatening to pull the Republican leadership off its fiscal message this week. Social issues will do that, they say.

Meanwhile, King dismisses his critics as hysterical. The New York congressman is not backing down, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’m going to do it.”

He sounds far more determined on this social issue than some of his colleagues do on fiscal topics, like the reform of Social Security and Medicare.

Reuters Photo Credits: Sean Gardner (Rick Santorum); Larry Downing (Newt Gingrich); Jonathan Ernst (Tim Pawlenty);  Chip East (Peter King)

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If you listen to Republicans, you’ll hear plenty of proud boasts about how their priorities reflect the will of the American electorate.

And if you listen to the American electorate, you’ll hear something else entirely.

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