Hey GOP! Do You Hear Your Fed Up, Fired Up Base?
In the view of many pundits, the GOP primary has boiled down to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich versus former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. But the consensus among numerous commentators is that former Senator Rick Santorum won the last two debates, and he has pushed ahead of Gingrich in some polls pitting various GOP candidates against President Obama.
Certainly, Santorum's performance in the Tampa debate earned him recognition as a contender. In one of the most prescient moments of the Republican primary, Santorum gave an impassioned explanation of why RomneyCare's role as the model for ObamaCare is the central issue for 2012. After Romney gave a tepid defense of his Massachusetts health care legislation, Santorum heatedly and powerfully attacked individual mandates and pointed out the similarities between Romney's and Obama's health care reform. Santorum bluntly declared that Romney's record on health care reform made him the wrong GOP candidate to put up against President Obama. It boiled down to, according to Senator Santorum, essentially surrendering the issue of our fundamental freedoms -- which is not likely to be acceptable to Tea Party activists, who are credited with enabling the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. Mr. Romney blew off the former senator's concerns: "It's not worth getting angry about."
Such a blasé response was seen as evidence that establishment Republicans lack a strong conservative core and as proof that they don't get the underlying reasons for the drubbing that the Democrats took in 2010. Worse, Romney's throwaway remark seemed to emphasize the vast divide between country-club Republicans and the hurting, angry electorate who have seen their savings disappear and had their homes foreclosed, and who see the millstone of $16 trillion in debt diminishing the futures of their kids and grandkids.
Remember back when pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen wrote a book titled Mad as Hell? Their research documented the substantive unrest and anger at the grassroots level and described how that anger was reshaping American politics. In the South Carolina GOP primary debates, Newt Gingrich obviously tapped into the mood of the voters and their anger -- not just at the political reshaping of America by the Obama administration, but also by the bias of the media that has made "religion" a dirty word and demonized the "religious right." Romney's response to Santorum at the Tampa debate is taken by many to indicate that Romney and the high-profile GOP politicians who support him still don't understand the activists' anger at the Obama administration and the determination of GOP voters to repeal ObamaCare.
The anger of Main-Street Americans turned white-hot when it became increasingly clear that ObamaCare mandates taxpayer funding of abortion, and then the Obama administration issued a federal mandate requiring coverage of abortion drugs, sterilization, and all FDA-approved contraceptives -- including those that are abortifacients -- by virtually all employers. Forcing faith-based institutions to provide these services violates their religious convictions and takes away "conscience clauses" -- a radical intrusion of government into religious liberty. Voters saw a government that had already intruded into areas that were previously private and inviolate now forcing faithful believers to betray their values, beliefs, and consciences on central tenets of their faith. An already angry public views the governmental overreaching of the Obama administration as destroying the moral fabric of the nation in the same way that it brought the nation to its knees economically because of fiscal irresponsibility. Even those who are not Gingrich fans gave a standing ovation to his powerful articulation of their sense of betrayal.
And let's face it. The GOP grassroots voters are not just angry at the radical left; they are angry at the go-along-to-get-along, country-club Republicans who are hung up on the power that big government confers and the spoils that go with it. Recent history indicates to voters that the establishment GOP lacks the stomach to stand up for conservative principles and fight for conservative policies -- beginning with a balanced budget that addresses the fiscal crisis, government expansion, and runaway entitlements, as well as a determination to repeal ObamaCare and its inevitable health care rationing and skyrocketing health care costs.
Further, the GOP base is skeptical about flimsy campaign promises that do not translate into action to rein in and pare down the size of the bloated federal government; they are fired up to oppose establishment Republicans who have a patronizing, dismissive attitude toward social conservatives who oppose abortion and work to protect marriage and family.
The bottom line is simple and inescapable: the "religious right" is tired of being taken for granted and having party leaders who don't think a government that tramples their values is "worth getting angry about." Will the Republican leadership "have eyes to see and ears to hear" the grassroots warning to return to the limited government established by the Founders? If the GOP establishment does not recognize that it is on a collision course with its fed-up base, its ineptitude will rival that of Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, and the resulting crash of the moderates against the fired up conservatives' rock-solid demands will cripple the Grand Old Party.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., former Bush 41 presidential speechwriter and twice a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, is a spokesperson for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.