Thursday, June 23, 2011


Over at Greg's place yesterday, I speculated that there's a good chance that old-fashioned gay-bashing could be on its way to the GOP presidential nomination contest. Nomination races feature candidates who have very similar issue profiles and are otherwise difficult to choose between, which means that candidates have a strong incentive to differentiate themselves from the field by exaggerating small differences. I argued that issues surrounding sexual orientation would work well for one or more candidate: there's still strong support for Christian conservative positions on the issue within the GOP primary electorate, but it might be hard for frontrunners to match rhetoric (and, perhaps, policy positions) out of fear of a general election population that doesn't share those positions.

My question for today is: what else is a logical issue for GOP candidates to use to differentiate themselves?

I don't think foreign policy is especially's risky (because events could undermine a heterodox stance), and more basically it's not all that likely that Republican voters really care about it. The exception, perhaps, is that someone could try to break out on (support of) torture. It's not as good as sexual orientation; I doubt that there's as much of a large conservative vote that cares a lot about it, while at the same time I'm not sure that frontrunners couldn't just go along, since I'm not sure that the November electorate would mind a pro-torture position.

What else? Taxes is always promising; that's what Pawlenty is trying, and of course Romney is going to match him. Is there room left for a Bachmann or a Santorum to carve out something different? I'm not sure. It would be interesting to see someone campaign explicitly against deficit mania (that is, saying that budget balancers are endangering tax cuts) would be interesting to see how wedded conservative voters are to balanced budget empty rhetoric along with deficit increasing policy choices. Newt has been running against the Fed recently; if he drops out relatively soon, will someone else (other than Ron Paul) make a play there?

I'm not sure what alternatives are available on the social issues side that fit the profile.

Any suggestions? I'd like to think that we should be able to predict this stuff.


  1. I think this only half-applies to the concept, but if the evangelical candidates can convincingly get the base to be truly afraid of Mormons, they can knock Romney out of the running. If they focus not on the similarities between the faiths, but on seemingly massive theological differences--which still seems to be how Huckabee derailed Romney back in 2008--they could potentially take the frontrunner out.

    And I wonder how much Huntsman's recent talk of semi-Mormonism was just an additional separation between himself and Romney.

  2. maybe school prayer? That could be a backdoor way to highlight the Mormon issue.

  3. I think Nate Silver had the gay issues right in August 2010 ( "Congratulations, gays! You're no longer the dweebiest kid on the playground. Republicans will be beating up on Manuel, whose parents just moved here from Mexico, instead. And when they get done with him, there's Faisal, whose father wants to build a mosque."

    On the Muslim issues particularly, I expect to see some Repulicans differentiate themselves with anti-mosque, anti-Sharia, and anti-veil rhetoric. I also expect calls to use group memberships and past travel rather than flight plans or luggage to decide who gets enhanced airport screening.

  4. I think Andy's got it right. Right now, the road to the GOP nom runs through Romney, its only a matter of time before one of his opponents decides its time to whack him on the mormon thing. People I know who vote in GOP primaries tell me that the primary to them is a referendum on mormonism and they're against it.

    Although the deficit hawks vs. norquist pledgers looks like a great opportunity for genuine intellectually honest debate, it doesn't serve the party to have that debate in public because it requires a degree of honesty that would force the some of the contenders into an area of agreement with the president, which I think they'll avoid like death

  5. Audit the Fed/gold standard, really a no-risk way to pick up some Conservative cred.

    The libertarian candidates, Paul and Johnson, are anti-war and anti-torture. Huntsman joins them in the former and might in the latter as well.

    It will be interesting to see where Huntsman goes on deficits. As Governor, he supported big tax cuts, while at the same time he was known as "one of the biggest spending governors in the nation." (Cato Fiscal Policy Report Card,

  6. It's social issues, really, that get the base fired up. Guns (how that's social, i'll never know), gays, drugs, abortion, immigration, prayer in schools, etc.


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