Veritable droves of right-of-center commentators and would-be eminences are more than happy to sound off ad-nauseam about tax cuts and job creation. Those priorities are spoken about as if they are the only political issues that conservatives can win on. In 2018, before November’s midterm elections, a group of Republican insiders and strategists happily gloated that another round of tax cuts would leave Democrats completely stumped, flailing in confusion at their loss. On the other hand, after those commentators were proven wrong, with Democrats winning those elections by a concerning margin, they stuck to the “tax-talk” strategy, dolefully weeping that the President had somehow “distracted” from their “pocketbook issues” message.
The failed strategy of eschewing conservative stands on social and cultural issues in favor of endless gushing about libertarian economics originates from a small selection of libertarian-leaners in the GOP and their 2013 “Autopsy Report.” That report sought to chart a socially centrist and economically ultra-laissez-faire path forward for the conservative movement. Needless to say, the victory of President Trump in 2016 undermined many of that report’s assertions.
A report published by the American Principles Project (the parent organization of this blog) last Thursday went to new lengths in explaining why that “economics-only” strategy has failed. The GOP’s post-2012 efforts have yielded little of the expected support from young and unmarried people. In addition, the newest hills the Democrats are willing to die on are far more radical than the “Autopsy” pundits would have expected: biological boys in girls sports, Drag Queen Story Hour, and post-natal abortion weren’t clearly on the radar then.
The report finds, in fact, that marriage and an upbringing in an intact family environment remain among the strongest predictors that a person will vote for Republicans and hold conservative policy views. This correlation even holds across diverse social groups and ethnicities:
In 2018, Black and Hispanic married voters were more than twice as likely as their divorced, cohabiting, and never married counterparts to vote Republican. The beneficial effect of marriage for Republicans also extends to children, as nearly twice as many minority voters from intact families voted for GOP candidates as those from other situations (30 percent to 16 percent).
Relevant to this, the report found that Donald Trump’s success winning the presidency in 2016, as well as other conservative victories in recent memory, aren’t owed to libertarian politics. The report observes that Trump didn’t resort to the “truce strategy” on social issues like ill-fated GOP campaigns of the past. Instead, his campaign took assertive positions on life issues and religious liberty:
Unlike Mitt Romney’s doomed 2012 campaign which took pains to deemphasize Romney’s position on social issues, Trump in 2016 recognized the potent appeal of social conservatism to a large portion of the electorate and acted accordingly.
Perhaps most in breaking with the economic libertarianism that has been pushed as a quacksalver since 2018, the report reiterates how Trump’s populist message attracted enough voters to achieve the largest electoral college victory that a Republican candidate has achieved this decade.
Having reevaluated the ill-conceived lessons from 2012 in the light of Trump’s victory in 2016, the report puts forth a new path for conservatism. Paid family leave, the ability of families to be free from pornography, pro-family tax policy, and dynamic changes in education (including school choice) are all proposed as serious policy priorities going forward. These proposals should be taken seriously — not only for the GOP to win, but for the family and American society to flourish.
The “Family First” report can be read in full here.