Former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer says conservatives are tired of being marginalized and taken for granted within the GOP and the party needs to prepare for more Election Day disappointments if it doesn’t produce candidates the base can enthusiastically support.
Bauer sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. He previously served as chief domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and is now president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families PAC.
In a Sunday Washington Post story highlighting the agitation of social conservatives toward GOP leaders, Bauer described the difference between the two groups as a “chasm.” He said that divide is felt by far more than the values voters.
“The chasm is not only between the Republican Party establishment and social conservatives but the party establishment and conservatives generally,” Bauer said. “I’m talking almost daily with economic conservatives, conservatives that believe in a strong national defense, those that are pro-life and pro-family. There’s a general feeling that the party just isn’t fighting hard enough against liberalism here in Washington and seems too uncertain with the message and with the themes that the party says it cares about.”
According to Bauer, conservatives are not only looking for proud defenders of the unborn and traditional marriage but Republicans committed to smaller government, less regulation and other kitchen-table issues. He said far too many in the GOP are more interested in racing to the middle than standing firmly on conservative principles.
“On all these issues, all too often, party officials who have been around for awhile tend to muddle the differences between them and the Democratic Party,” he said.
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Gary Bauer:
Three of the past four presidential elections show the nation to be very divided politically. Bauer said Republicans cannot afford to take any votes for granted. He said the party needs conservatives to win.
"Whichever side can turn out its core supporters is likely to win not only the elections this November for control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, but they're likely to go on and win the presidency in 2016," he said. "If the Republican Party cannot get its most loyal, committed voters – the voters that take most seriously the planks in the Republican platform – they're going to underperform this November and underperform in 2016."
In his comments to the Washington Post, Bauer made it clear that conservatives have no intention of being ignored in the long term.
"Values voters have been treated as the stepchildren of the family, while the party has wanted to get on with so-called more electorally popular ideas," he told the Post. "The Republican base will not tolerate another candidate foisted upon us as a guy who can win."
In his interview with WND and Radio America, Bauer said conservatives were told they had to support John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 because they were the only candidates who could win. He said the results of those elections demonstrate conservatives have little interest in holding their noses to vote for who they see as the lesser of two evils.
"Several million self-identified conservatives just didn't go vote," he explained. "If the nominee is not somebody that makes the base of the party's heart beat faster, they just won't show up and that will result again in another election that swings the country further to the left."
Republican strategists accuse conservatives who stay home of biting off their noses to spite their faces. They argue, while conservatives might not have been enamored with Romney, he's a far better alternative to President Obama on virtually every issue. Bauer said that's not the way it works for many conservatives.
"They aren't moved by analyses about what they should and shouldn't do," he said. "They simply look at the candidates and say, 'OK, who's the candidate that represents what I believe?' If they don't see a candidate that represents what they believe, particularly on the things they care they most about, they're just not moved by the argument that this guy will be a little less worse than that guy."
Bauer also challenged the notion that elections are won by catering to the middle of the electorate and keeping as quiet as possible on hot-button social issues. He said history tells a much different story.
"There are strong and influential voices in the Republican Party promoting the idea that Republicans haven't done well in elections because of issues like the sanctity of life, religious liberty and traditional marriage. I believe the polling evidence is the exact opposite of that," said Bauer, who contends the GOP cannot point to any recent major electoral win by shying away from conservative principles.
"They have no track record," he said. "They have no record of success. In fact, the most popular presidential candidate the Republicans have nominated in modern history was Ronald Reagan, who was roundly condemned by the party establishment as being too right wing and too conservative. But he won landslide elections."
Another frequent argument from Republican officials is that public attitudes are changing on key issues like marriage, where the traditional marriage position once held a wide edge. Now polls are largely even over whether same-sex marriage ought to be legalized and millennial voters are overwhelmingly in favor of changing the definition. Bauer believes that rather than shrinking from the debate, Republicans need to marshal a passionate defense of traditional marriage.
"Instead of sticking your finger up in the air, trying to figure out which way the wind's blowing and suggesting that you have to abandon an issue because the polling has changed," Bauer said, "how about instead making the public-policy argument about why marriage should be between a man and a woman and why children need mothers and fathers?"
He said if Republicans simply went by polls, then they should be in favor of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and be opposed to any sort of reduction in Social Security payments to help save the system.
With the midterm elections less than 80 days away and jockeying for 2016 already underway, Bauer said recent history can already tell the the outcome depending upon how the Republicans approach the campaign.
"The party needs to nominate in key races, including the presidential race in 2016, solid conservatives that are not ashamed or embarrassed about their views, people that are willing to make the entire case for economic conservatism, values conservatism and a strong national defense," he said. "If they don't do that, then I think once again they'll be frustrated by results on Election Day."
Despite his frustrations, Bauer said he maintains Reagan's sunny optimism that the party will come together and move the country in a more conservative direction. And he believes highlighting the divides between various liberal factions will help to depress the Democratic turnout.
"Many of the constituencies in the Democratic Party have conflicting interests," he said. "If we're united and we start pointing out the differences on the left, then I think we have a good chance to be successful on Election Day."