But a truce in the culture wars, which Mitch Daniels recommended, could force Republicans to actually take on serious fiscal reform.
When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a socially conservative deficit hawk, was still weighing whether or not to run for president, he tested out the notion that the Republican Party should call a truce on social issues. Confronting America's alarming fiscal imbalance was that urgent, he avowed. Although that was way back in June 2010, the tireless Dave Weigel hasn't forgotten. He says new polling data showing an electorate focused on the economy proves that Gov. Daniels was right all along. Doug Mataconis agrees. But Daniel Larison isn't having it:
If social issues are lower priorities for the majority of voters, and far more people claim that the budget deficit and Medicare are "very important" to their vote, that suggests that a focus on these issues isn't what gets in the way of addressing fiscal and economic problems effectively. The "truce" is a remedy to a problem that doesn't exist. It's because the "truce" was so irrelevant that I never quite understood why there was so much hostility to Daniels from social conservatives after he mentioned it, but I suppose it seemed like yet another example of unnecessarily dismissive treatment that social conservatives have become so tired of experiencing .... Calling a "truce" on social issues wouldn't facilitate entitlement reform, it wouldn't close the partisan gap on tax policy, and it wouldn't end the contentious disputes over the level and nature of domestic discretionary spending. As the arguments surrounding Paul Ryan's budget show, fiscal debates have their moral and religious elements as well.
As someone who would love to see the GOP focus less on social issues, I must concede that Larison may be right. But in focusing on whether a truce would help bring Republicans and Democrats together, I wonder if he doesn't neglect what I regard as its most salutary possible effect: If folks inclined toward fiscal conservatism mostly agreed to put their other causes aside to make it happen, GOP pols would face unprecedented pressure to come through on spending and entitlements -- the very thing Republicans almost never manage to do.
Ronald Reagan was forgiven for failing to shrink government or reduce deficits because of the Cold War. President Bush managed to keep his constituency because it preferred his approach to the War on Terrorism. An agreement to suspend needless war-making in order to focus on the deficit would probably be more useful than a truce on social issues. It's neoconservatives, not social conservatives, who bear substantial responsibility for blowing trillions on catastrophic wars of choice that failed miserably in achieving their avowed goals. But God, guns, gays, and cultural resentment have also helped Republicans to win votes without delivering on fiscal matters.