Many factors will contribute to the Republican Party’s success or defeat in the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections. However, Mr. James’ assertion that Mitt Romney lost the election because of the GOP’s stances on social issues misstated – or overlooked – several key facts that deserve to be addressed.
It is unclear what source Mr. James was citing when he claimed, “In 2011, 36 percent of Americans (the highest ever) supported the legality of abortion ‘under any circumstances,’ and 77 percent now believe abortion should remain legal.” In May 2012, a Gallup poll found that Americans identifying themselves as “pro-choice” was at 41 percent, an all-time low, while 50 percent of Americans identified themselves as “pro-life.” This poll also indicated that the number of Democrats who identified themselves as “pro-choice” was a mere 58 percent, a drop from years past.
Granted, some Americans who identify themselves as “pro-life” support abortion in cases of rape and incest, and some abortion supporters favor limitations on abortion such as parental notification laws and abortion bans late in pregnancy.
In 2010, Gallup announced that “pro-life is the new normal.” It is also worth noting that upon announcing her resignation, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that there is an “intensity gap” among young people when it comes to abortion – young people who oppose abortion are more passionate than young people who support it.
Mitt Romney didn’t lose the election because of his social conservatism; he lost because he failed to appeal to Latino voters. The Democratic Party platform on immigration, particularly on the issue of illegal immigration and amnesty, is much more appealing to Latinos than the GOP platform, which can easily be misconstrued as one of massive deportations and a heavily guarded border.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote, “[Hispanics] should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example),” but the GOP loses its appeal by largely failing to consider amnesty for illegal immigrants who already live and work in the United States.
If future GOP candidates can answer tricky or baited questions about abortion more delicately than Todd Akin and Richard Murdock did while still sticking firmly to their pro-life views, transform their party’s platform on immigration and continue to advocate socially conservative policies on abortion and gay marriage, they will gain much more of the Latino vote.
The fact that Colorado legalized recreational marijuana does not reflect a dramatic shift away from traditional conservatism; as columnist George F. Will put it, “…it is strange for conservatives to turn a stony face toward any reconsideration of drug policies, particularly concerning marijuana, which confirm conservatism’s warnings about government persistence in the teeth of evidence.” Marijuana legalization at the state level is the Tenth Amendment at its finest; proponents of a small federal government should embrace reformed marijuana laws.
Mr. James’ claim that Mitt Romney “lost because he believes the government can tell Americans how to make their personal moral choices, and we are at a point in history when Americans are no longer willing to accept this” implies the government doesn’t already tell Americans what personal moral choices they can or can’t make.
Actually, the government can and does; this is called the law. Laws, whether they are hotly contested, lobbied against as unconstitutional or largely ignored, still legislate and regulate based on morality. President Obama has certainly imposed his morals on Americans: he’s forced the intrusive Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, his signature piece of legislation, on Americans; he repealed the Mexico City Policy, which prevented international organizations that receive United States taxpayer funding from performing abortions abroad because his administration is not opposed to expanding access to abortion. He also stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act because his position on gay marriage has “evolved.”
Mr. James claims that candidates who support something that less than 50 percent of voters back is “suicide,” yet he forgets that prior to 2012, the majority of voters did not support gay marriage. Obviously, education efforts, such as the pro-life ones and gay marriage ones, can and do change people’s views.
America will probably never agree unanimously about social issues, and there will probably always be single-issue voters on both sides when it comes to gay marriage and abortion. However, if the GOP can evolve its position on immigration while holding onto its social conservatism, it will garner a large part of the Latino vote. In a nation of immigrants with a growing, voting Latino population – 74 percent of whom felt that Mitt Romney did not care about Latinos or was openly hostile toward them, according to ABC – Latino approval of a candidate may determine the outcome of many future elections.
Claire Chretien is a sophomore majoring in American studies.