More Republicans are identifying themselves as social moderates, driven by same-sex marriage — and the GOP faces the challenge of attracting these voters while not alienating traditional conservatives, political strategist Karl Rove said Wednesday.
"Since 43 percent of all the votes Mitt Romney received in 2012 came from white evangelical Christians, the GOP would fracture if it abandoned its longstanding support for traditional morality," Rove said in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.
"The Republican Party is the home of cultural conservatives and should remain so, not only for political reasons but also for moral ones.
"Yet," he added, "the GOP must find language that holds social conservatives while attracting socially moderate independents and even Democrats who think their party’s left wing is too wacky.
"Republicans have done that on abortion — arguing that while the Supreme Court has held that abortion must be legal, people should find common ground to make sure it’s rare."
Citing a May 10 Gallup poll,
Rove said that Americans identifying themselves as social liberals has now outnumbered social conservatives since the survey organization started asking the question in 1999.
But more Republicans have been describing themselves as social moderates since 2010 — from 31 percent to 34 percent in the May survey — and as social liberals, from 7 percent in 2010 to 11 percent.
Republicans describing themselves as social conservatives, meanwhile, has fallen in the period: from 62 percent in 2010 to 53 percent in May.
"Much of this appears to be driven by rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage," Rove said.
Therefore, Republicans "must also treat social conservatives as engaged citizens rather than single-issue voters," he added. "This means emphasizing economic and foreign-policy issues about which they are deeply concerned this cycle.
"Yet the GOP can no longer take for granted the plurality of economic conservative voters. New technologies are disrupting the economy, creating anxiety among working-class Americans," Rove continued.
"Republicans must offer an agenda that improves their lives. Making the moral case for limited government and greater freedom is important, but not enough. Middle-class voters want concrete answers to real-world concerns about their paychecks, job security, high taxes, education and health care — starting with a comprehensive replacement for Obamacare."
That's why a Republican victory in 2016 must emphasize more than "mobilization and turnout, though both are important," Rove concluded. "It must also be a campaign of persuasion that pulls in millions of Americans who have not voted Republican in recent years.
"This means nominating a candidate who both excites the base and appeals beyond it," he advised. "That’s easy to say, harder to do."
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