Why Romney Wins Primaries But No Victories

by Matthew Raley With Mitt Romney's wins in Michigan and Arizona last night, the race for the GOP nomination may become more stable. But the diminishing political options for Romney's competitors will not change the attitudes of GOP voters. The candidates reflect America's deepening division without giving the leadership Americans need to reunite. Republicans will continue to grumble.

Great political leaders make coalitions that give different interests a place to combine. Ronald Reagan, for instance, is best understood as a coalition builder. He knew that strong unity begins with a dense message, one that integrates many points of view. The secret to his political power was the diversity of people and philosophies behind him. (The left has never understood this, preferring to call Reagan an illusionist.)

The two most significant GOP candidates at this writing, Romney and Rick Santorum, are not going to be great leaders.

Here are some of the cultural changes the GOP candidates reflect.

1. Economic divide.

Santorum and Romney reflect this divide perfectly. Santorum comes from a blue collar district in Pennsylvania, the real rust-belt deal. He articulates the priorities of blue collar people who have seen their way of life fall to pieces. Romney lives in the managerial world of law and finance, and articulates the problem-solving ethos of that world.

Both men talk about freedom. But the blocks of culture they represent need to hear how their specific interests in freedom combine. The question of the hour is, "Where do interests converge?"

2. Educational divide

One chunk of the nation has a college or graduate education. That block has mobility, options, and wealth. The people in it have seen their choices narrow in the last four years because of the bad economy. But they still have options to improve their lives.

The other chunk of the nation has a high school education and, maybe, work experience. This block has little social mobility, few to no options for improving their lives, and little wealth. Men in this group, particularly, do not see how they can make their way back into the economy with anything like the vitality their fathers enjoyed.

This educational divide has hardened into worldview divide. Many in the educated block view their education as a spiritual mission, a means to moral and personal transformation. Most in the uneducated block see the educational establishment as a fraud. Harvard, Madoff -- what's the difference? And this suspicion is all too well-founded (here and here). It is not just anti-intellectual bigotry, as the educated classes love to suppose.

Santorum spoke directly to this split, taking one side of it in unambiguous terms. Obama is a "snob" for talking up college. Santorum's approach is not going to benefit him. It will be seen as unpresidential even by those who might eat it up on a talk show. But, even though candidates do not gain the nomination with boorish jabs, there remains a deep and justified hostility to the socially approved waste of resources by colleges and universities.

Romney, for his part, is a numbers guy, planted complacently on the other side of the divide.

So the question remains: how can the interests of both combine?

3. Family divide.

Charles Murray has delivered another of his virtuoso performances in social science, speaking of numbers. In Coming Apart, he shows the predominance of traditional marriage among those who are educated with a secular worldview, and the predominance of broken families among the less educated. Michael Barone analyzes the Romney-Santorum battle in light of Murray's findings.

Santorum, in his populist flush, seems unaware that the working class no longer lives a traditional family life. Indeed, the most significant reason why the working class has fewer economic and social options is not the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, but the loss of resilience that comes from a committed marriage.

Romney has nothing to say about this. He has the gut of a financier, which, valuable though it may be, seems to leave him incapable of speaking effectively to these problems.

What will the new coalition for the traditional family look like? Actually, it won't be political at all.

The reason the GOP hasn't settled on a front runner is that no candidate is building a coalition.

If Santorum had wanted to be credible, he would have come out of the gate with a coalition message, and he would have made his strategy and tactics in the primaries cohere with that message. As it is, he is merely rallying a constituency, and is blowing an opportunity that only comes once in a generation.

If Romney had wanted to be credible, he would have launched his campaign with a deeper, more cogent assessment of America's problems. But he does not appear to have the imagination to do more than deliver slogans. And by now, he has morphed too many times to sharpen his message.

Gingrich and Paul? Paul does not want a coalition. That was never his game. As for Gingrich, I would never count him out. But the coalition he envisions seems to change every time his mic goes live.

In other words, every GOP candidate wants to be Reagan without doing what Reagan did.

Gingrich and Social Conservatives

by Matthew Raley The victory of Newt Gingrich in South Carolina puts evangelicals and other social conservatives at a crossroads. Gingrich by any measure is morally equal to Bill Clinton, upon whom social conservatives released so much rhetorical lava in the 1990s. Yet one of the GOP's most traditionalist states has just told its delegates to vote for Gingrich at the convention.

The message is hard to misunderstand. South Carolina Republicans could have voted for three family men whose private morality is unquestioned. Ron Paul is one. Mitt Romney lives the way social conservatives say public men should live. His pro-life credentials are weak, but no weaker than George H. W. Bush's were. Rick Santorum also walks the family walk, and has the additional advantage of being publicly acclaimed by evangelical leaders at a summit in Texas.

No deal. It's Gingrich.

According to exit polls, Gingrich won almost every voter category, including independents. Women favored him 38% to Romney's 29%. Married people favored him over Romney 41% to 28%. Gingrich won both "somewhat" and "very" conservative voters by large margins. He swept evangelicals with 44%. Romney and Santorum each took 21% of evangelicals, meaning that even their combined vote wouldn't have beaten Gingrich.

The conclusion is inescapable: the people who wanted President Clinton removed, and who only recently heaved Mark Sanford (R) from the governor's office for his notorious adultery, just said that adultery doesn't matter in Gingrich's case.

The hypocrisy cannot be healed by excuses such as:

1. Christianity is really about forgiveness.

Rick Perry used the line when he endorsed Gingrich. And, to be sure, there's something in this forgiveness thing. But some evangelicals in the 90s, notably Tony Campolo, tried to alert evangelicals to the gospel's potential for President Clinton, and got the smack-down. Is forgiveness only for Republicans?

2. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy that uses the politics of personal destruction.

Yes, the ABC interview with Gingrich's ex-wife was transparently an attempt to sway the South Carolina primary. It was too exquisitely timed. But, when the words were "vast right-wing conspiracy," social conservatives scoffed.

3. The accusations against President Clinton were never about sex, but about his perjury.

Yes, the impeachment process was about perjury. But what really bothered social conservatives at the time was Bill Clinton's cultural significance. He was not merely a 1960s liberal, but a 1960s libertine. He represented the triumph of moral relativism and the mainstreaming of sexual immorality. Or so they said. Why not Gingrich? Why doesn't his behavior equally symbolize the decline of sexual ethics? Symbolize it more?

Bottom line: social conservatives in Bob Jones country voted for Gingrich because they think he can win. And that's always the bottom line in politics, left and right.

I do not believe Clinton's or Gingrich's transgressions tell us much about American culture, in the 1990s or today. In fact, public presidential immorality has been worse in the past. Grover Cleveland assumed responsibility for an illegitimate child in 1884, going on to serve two terms as president. The public shame of such politicians is just the continuing story of power. For the story of American culture, we have to examine what ordinary people do.

I'm one of many pastors have been arguing for years that the evangelical political machine is wrong both about the gospel and politics. Those who believe we can take back our culture through political means, and who have been selling us politicians for the last 25 years, have yet to show one cultural transformation. They keep stumbling over their spin. They have failed to understand that the political process rarely shapes culture, but is culture's slave.

The only hope for transforming our nation is for evangelicals to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people's hearts. When we get our message clear again, we will see God change lives, and our culture will change as a result. Pastors are doing this with leaders of both parties, choosing to see them as men and women who need counsel, healing, and repentance rather than as enemies who should be crushed. Leaders like Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. If followers of Christ never said another word about pro-family policies and spoke only of the restoring power of Christ through his death and resurrection, we would be amazed at the results.

The power-game will always be with us. It's past time for us to choose Christ instead.

Conservatives' Rising Expectations

by Matthew Raley The generic Congressional polls now predict a Republican thumper in November, recalling the sweep of 1994. When the Republicans took the House and Senate that year, the spread in similar polls had reached 5 points. Today, the RCP average shows a Republican lead of 6.7 points. Last week, the Gallup poll found a record 10-point spread.

Even granting the prudent equivocations -- that two months is a long time in an election cycle, that Republicans have not articulated a clear policy agenda, that the public still does not like them -- it is hard to see how Democrats avoid disaster. Conservative ambitions for radical action are about to balloon.

So I blew the dust off the 40th anniversary issue of National Review, published December 11, 1995, a year into the Republican Congress. Has reality matched conservatives' raised expectations from that time?

What I first noticed thumbing its pages was who had died since publication. William F. Buckley, still going strong then, and Ronald Reagan, who had announced his Alzheimer's disease only a year before. Jack Kemp had not yet been nominated for vice president.

Even long careers are strangely short.

Then I noticed how many debates are still raging: health care, global warming, the federal debt. Next, how drastically media have changed: in one article, Neal Freeman wrote that "Young Media" were talk radio, cable television, and newsletters.

Then, I recalled the subject that had seized conservatives' ambition in the flush of victory: reversing cultural decline.

David Gelernter wrote an essay called, "After Liberalism," the very title of which captures what conservatives dreamed, namely that they were on the verge of delivering a fatal blow to the opposing ideology. But Gelernter was not triumphalist. He ended his essay describing the deteriorating lives of middle class children. Then he observed:

When it comes to family values, Republicans talk a good game and check their children at the door. Values Republicans are eager to show that they are Female-Friendly. Growth Republicans understand clearly that economic disaster would be the consequence were American mothers to walk off the job. We'd all be poorer. Standards of living would drop to what they were in (perhaps) 1965. And so the idea that rearing children and not generating wealth might conceivably be society's first responsibility is orphaned, without a friend anywhere on the mainstream political spectrum.

Spot-on.

In another essay, Digby Anderson wrote of recovering the moral strength of Victorian society, a goal that became a preoccupation of many conservatives in the 1990s.  Anderson wrote,

In the mid nineteenth century [the Victorians] inherited a society with significant crime, illegitimacy, and low moral standards. By the end of the century they had substantially reduced crime, halved illegitimacy, and produced a complex, powerful, and sophisticated moral order. . . . Virtue and been lost. Virtue was recovered.

This narrative, backed up by historical and social scientific research from thinkers like Gertrude Himmelfarb and Charles Murray, and amplified among evangelicals by Chuck Colson and others, drove such policies as welfare reform, enacted with Bill Clinton's triangulating signature in 1996. Grabbing congressional majorities fueled a sense that conservatives could restore virtue to the culture by handing power back to ordinary Americans.

Problematic group, those ordinary Americans.

On the one hand, Richard Brookhiser wrote about promising trends among baby-boomers. There was a "revival of religious enthusiasm, amounting to a Fourth Awakening." There was an increase in those who "teach their children  around the kitchen table out of McGuffey's Readers." There was also a new interest in virtue itself, signaled by the success of Bill Bennett's The Book of Virtues. Those were indeed striking trends then.

But by the end of the 1990s, pornography and gambling had been culturally mainstreamed, household debt was spiraling, rates of divorce had not significantly changed, and cohabitation outside of marriage was increasing. In 2006, Republican domination of Congress came to an end amid scandals that featured every kind of financial corruption and sexual perversion.

A thumping Republican victory this November will be a significant event. But politicians and their hangers-on are always too quick to believe their press. Political change does not so much alter as reflect culture. The 1994 victory reflected American culture quite accurately, in all its grim corruption.

I turn a page in this old National Review issue and see an ad for Newt Gingrich's book, To Renew America. A fellow pastor loaned me a copy of it in 1997, telling me how much he admired Gingrich's stands, how crucial it was for the moral stamina of the nation to follow his prescriptions. A few weeks later, that pastor was in prison for molesting a minor.

Political power is not enough to renew America. Not even close.

Books: Douthat and Salam on Republicans

scan0002Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 233 pp. by Matthew Raley

I have followed the incisive writing of these men in National Review for several years, and have regretted taking so long to get to their book. Their version of recent political history, their analysis of the working class and the new stratification of American society, and their road map to Republican success are compelling.

But my interest in their book is focused less on their political acumen than on their revealing picture of evangelicals.

Religious, socially conservative voters have been a base of the Republican party for several decades. These voters come from all classes, but they are disproportionately working class and southern. They have pushed the party to adopt pro-family, pro-life, and anti-gay marriage positions, and to side with them against the sexual mores of Hollywood.

When Douthat and Salam show these voters' problems as part of the larger working class in America, a disturbing portrait emerges.

The authors assert (p 133), "The most important thing to understand about today's stratification -- economic, social, and cultural -- is that it starts at home, where working-class Americans are far less likely than their better-educated peers to enjoy the benefits of stable families."

Come again?

Better-educated Americans are liberals. They're the ones who don't have stable families, who don't even believe stable families are important. So what's this about the working class not enjoying stable families?

Douthat and Salam explain (p 133), "The divorce rate exploded across all classes in the late 1960s, but among the college educated it leveled off quickly and then began to drop." Here are the numbers (pp 133-134):

In the period from 1970 to '74, 24 percent of all first marriages among Americans with college degrees ended in divorce within ten years; two decades later, that figure had fallen to just 17 percent. During the same period, by contrast, the divorced-within-ten-years rate crept up among Americans without a college degree, from 34 to 36 percent. As late as 1980, the divorce rate for women without a four-year college degree was just three percentage points higher than the divorce rate for women with a four-year degree; by 2000, this "divorce divide" stood at nine percentage points.

Or take illegitimacy (p 134):

In the early 1960s, the rate of out-of-wedlock births was 5 percent among the best-educated third of the population and just 7 percent among the least-educated third. Over the next forty years, the illegitimacy rate would triple for the least-educated third, while barely budging among the best-educated segment of the population.

For Douthat and Salam, the social conservatism of so-called Red states is directly related to the working class's economic interests.

They quote Garance Franke-Ruta of the American Prospect (p 140): "People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities."

The authors' point that social conservatism is not, as many liberals argue, a distraction from the real problems of the working class, is needed.

But the disconnect between the voting passions of evangelicals and the way their families live has bothered me since the late nineties, when it became increasingly obvious that the loud, beefy Rush fans were just as, if not more, immoral than their NPR nemeses, and that Red-state church attendance was not having much impact on this hypocrisy.

I read Douthat and Salam's policy recommendations with enthusiasm. I hope a talented politician is studying this book.

But when I finished it, my thoughts went back to evangelicals. Their sexual morality is more an aspiration than a fact, which puts them in a poor position to lecture the rest of the country about righteousness. The out-of-wedlock pregnancy in the Palin family is all too typical of evangelical households right now, and protests that we believe a gospel of grace are not going to gain us sympathy.

Evangelicals need to recall that the kindness of God should lead us to repentance.