Some leaders of the religious right are openly worried this week after a sprawling 98-page report released by the Republican National Committee on how the party can rebuild after its 2012 implosion made no mention of the GOP's historic alliance with grassroots Christian "value voters."But according to the RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, the religious right shouldn't fret:
Specifically, the word "Christian" does not appear once in the party's 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word "church." Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found.
"The goal of the report was to look at areas where we could do much better, and in areas that needs that substantial improvement [working with conservative Christians] may not be at the top of the list because they've always done a fabulous job."Well, I'm sure the religious right will love being told the reason they weren't included in the report is that they're already doing "fabulous" work on behalf of the RNC. But the reality is that Spicer is right: Romney's biggest improvement over John McCain was turning out more evangelical whites, but it wasn't nearly enough to carry him to victory. Republicans basically can't win presidential elections with their current coalition.
Spicer also insisted that while the GOP hopes to expand its coalition, "the principles in the party are sound" and would not be abandoned. Asked whether opposition to same-sex marriage was among those principles, he said, "Yes."
The problem for Republicans is that they also can't expand their coalition without pissing off the people they depend on now, particularly in mid-term elections. That's why Spicer made it clear Republicans stood by their opposition to marriage equality. It's a catch-22: if Republicans don't change their tune on positions like marriage equality, they aren't going to be able to grow their party. But if they do change, they're going to face a revolt from their most enthusiastic and loyal supporters.
The GOP's solution to that catch-22 is to talk loudly about wanting to build a big tent but avoiding doing anything substantive that might actually help them build it. Their message comes down to something like this: "We want your support even if you don't agree with us." It's enough to make Mitt Romney's 2012 pitch look inspirational.