Tuesday, my colleague Will Saletan chronicled the various ways that Republican candidates are running away from "culture war" issues like gay marriage and reproductive rights. "Republicans are mumbling, cringing, and ducking," he notes, before providing a number of examples. "They don’t want the election to be about these issues, even in red states."
Saletan's not the only who noticed the sudden cowardice of Republican politicians on social issues. At this year's Values Voters Summit, held this past weekend, religious right leaders were showing fear of being left behind. "There was a palpable fear throughout the conference that the Republican Party is moving away from the Religious Right," writes Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch. At one panel, social conservatives tried gallantly to argue that opposition to abortion and gay rights is actually somehow libertarian, because supporters of those rights are "using the government to impose this new, strange sexual orthodoxy." And at one point, Brian Brown from the National Organization for Marriage defensively said, "It's not our fault" that Republicans keep losing.
The Family Research Council—the religious right group that hosts the Values Voters Summit, along with Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage—released a letter right before the conference announcing its plans to "mount a concerted effort to urge voters to refuse to cast ballots" for Republican House candidates Richard Tisei of Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio of California, as well as Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby of Oregon. The two men are gay and Wehby is pro-choice.
At one panel, titled, "How Conservatives Can Win With Millennials and Women," Kristan Hawkins, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Catherine Helsley Rodriguez tried to convince Republicans to stay on the anti-contraception message in order to reel in the votes. Nathalie Baptiste of the American Prospect described the scene:
Though birth control is popular among, well, everyone, panel members seemed indignant that anyone in the GOP would support over-the-counter birth control, as several Republican senatorial candidates have done. According to Hawkins, birth control is carcinogenic and so the people providing these “dangerous chemicals” to women are waging the real War on Women.
According to Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check, Hawkins also compared contraception "to asbestos and cigarettes."
It's almost possible to feel a small twinge of pity for the true believers on the religious right. For decades now, the Republican party has depended on them to endorse right wing ideology as a religious belief and to organize voters to get Republicans elected. But now the religious right is finding they only love you if they need you. Of course, religious conservatives shouldn't fret too much. Just because Republican politicians may not want to engage in the culture war now doesn't mean they won't return to pushing the religious right's agenda against gays and women once safely ensconced in office.