The more established Republicans want to move from social issueS to economic issues but the right wing of the Republican Party is not buying into it. In fact, at a recent private conference in Virginia, they have pledged to raise big bucks to keep social issues alive in the Republican Party even if that means virtual civil war with the establishment.
Politico.com in an article by Kenneth P. Vogel reports:
On a recent snowy day in the Washington suburb of Tyson’s Corner, Va., some of the religious right’s wealthiest backers and top operatives gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to plot their entry into the conservative civil war.
Their plan: take a page out of the playbooks of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers by raising millions of dollars, coordinating their political spending and assiduously courting megadonors.
Plans in the works range from aggressive super PAC spending in primaries against Republicans deemed squishy on social issues, to holding a donor conference in Normandy, France, tied to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
It’s all geared toward elevating the place of social issues like abortion and gay marriage in conservative politics. They’ve been largely relegated to the sidelines as the business wing of the GOP establishment wages a bitter and expensive struggle against the tea party for the soul of the Republican Party. The focus has been on fiscal issues such as Obamacare and the budget, while both sides have steered away from social issues they deem too divisive.
The Republican National Committee even issued a post-2012 autopsy report declaring: “When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and deed be inclusive and welcoming,” lest it turn off young voters and women.
That analysis reflects the perspective of the Republican megadonor class, but not the GOP’s base, argued Frank Cannon, who participated in the Ritz summit and runs an outfit called American Principles Project.
“The Manhattan and California zip codes where large numbers of these donors come from don’t behave politically or have the same views as Western Ohio,” Cannon said in an interview. “So there is a distortion of the political views by the donor class and by the consultant class.”
The Ritz summit was intended to help change that. It was organized by the Conservative Action Project, an initiative funded by the secretive Council on National Policy and chaired by former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese that brings together conservative leaders and donors to try to shape the movement.
The event was by invitation only and was closed to reporters. But POLITICO reviewed an agenda and guest list and staked out an adjacent lobby where participants held informal breakout meetings and munched on a lunch spread featuring soups, salads, and roast turkey sliders with brie, arugula, vine-ripened tomatoes and spicy mustard on pretzel roll buns.
The recent backlash against the tea party in Congress and the public could provide an opening for religious conservative leaders. They believe that, with a few tactical adjustments, they can capitalize on donor dissatisfaction with establishment outfits like Rove’s Crossroads and fiscally conservative operations like the one connected to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. Between them, the Rove and Koch networks combined to raise an unprecedented $750 million for their 2012 efforts.
Socially conservative groups, meanwhile, mostly missed the boat on the explosion in unlimited outside group spending in the post-Citizens United world.
The roughly 25 socially conservative groups represented at the Ritz — including Cannon’s, as well as Gary Bauer’s American Values outfit, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage — combined to pull in at least $280 million in 2011 and 2012, according to publicly available tax and campaign filings. While that’s hardly chump change, a majority of it went to groups focused on providing services and “issue education” to like-minded conservatives — including Dobson’s group, which raised $166 million — rather than to more overtly political activities.
“There are enough people out there that are pro-life and pro-family that have the resources to fund political efforts on those issues, and for a variety of reasons they just haven’t stepped up and so we have to do a better job of getting them to step up,” said Bauer, who’s been working with Cannon and others to increase coordination among socially conservative groups. Their leaders, according to Bauer, are increasingly concluding “that we’ve been behind the curve and that we need to do a better job of strategic fundraising and working together in order to get more traction on these issues.”