The 2010 Midterm Election saw the Republican/Tea Party Alliance take control of the House of Representatives. Had they offered more credible candidates in several key Senate races, they may well have taken control of Congress. That said, the party faces a serious dilemma as it looks ahead to the 2012 presidential race.
As I outlined in my earlier post (Midterm Elections Show Republican Party in Crisis, see below), the Tea Party has brought fresh energy to the Republican effort. Credible Tea Party candidates did well, and their supporters voted. Their grassroots effort created a block of voters through which any successful Republican Party presidential candidate will have to pass. And that block is strongly motivated by opposition to President Obama, a fact reflected by the similarity between Obama’s Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll disapproval rating – 41% (http://tiny.cc/dwxcn) and the number of voters in 2010 House elections who identified themselves as Tea Party supporters – 41%.
A Republican/Tea Party presidential candidate, holding Tea Party policy positions, could expect to receive the support of everyone to the right of those positions – immigration reform, lower taxes, curb federal spending, repeal of recent healthcare changes. Those issues worked well in the House races which targeted individual candidates and compartmentalized voter choices. To get to the presidency, a Republican/Tea Party candidate would have to appeal to voters closer to the center. Not many issues offer the option of a move to the left of Tea Party positions. One possibility might be abortion.
Once the decisive issue among Evangelical Christian voters, opposition to abortion has faded as a motivating factor for the way Christians view and decide political issues. For instance, in opposing healthcare reform, only 3% of those polled said they opposed it because of the possibility of increased funding for abortion (Pew Forum http://tiny.cc/x8by5). Most said they opposed it because of the cost and increased government intrusion on their lives.
Opposition to abortion is not the primary motivating factor among Tea Party faithful. Their motivation comes from strong, deep-seated opposition to Barack Obama and is expressed through economic issues. Blue-blood Republicans, another faction of the Republican coalition, have longed for a day when they could jettison the Christian right. Now, they might have that opportunity.
A pro-choice Republican candidate, with genuine pro-choice credentials, running on a platform that stresses economic and personal liberty issues, would open the Party’s appeal to progressive voters nearer the center of political opinion. Evangelical Christians would be forced to decide between not voting, and handing the election to President Obama, or voting for a pro-choice Republican based on other issues. It’s a strategy that just might win.
Which leaves the Republican/Tea Party alliance, and Evangelical Christians, facing an interesting question: Will you sell your soul for the sake of opposing Barack Obama?