Social Conservatives under the bus?

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social conservatives.jpgThe barons of the GOP are longing for a new Haley Barbour to head the RNC, writes Alexander Burns on Politico, and on his account what that means is someone consummately competent at the care and feeding of the apparat. Oh to be able to party like it was 1993-97! But it’s worth bearing in mind that, in addition to his political skills, the governor of Mississippi is a classic Bourbon conservative in more ways than one. When the state was forced into a round of major belt-tightening a few years ago, the joke was that the only thing that wasn’t cut was the governor’s Maker’s Mark account. So much not a part of the religious right is Barbour that the Democrat who tried to unseat him in 2007 based his campaign on a religious challenge to throw the money changer out of the Temple. (See Charles Wilson’s article on the campaign here.)
Meanwhile, James C. McKinley, Jr. reports in today’s NYT on the coup in the Texas legislature wherein the autocratic social conservative speaker of the house, Thomas Craddick, has been supplanted by Joe Straus, a pro-choice Jew from San Antonio who voted against legislation to ban gay men and lesbians from serving as foster parents. That’s Texas Republicanism?
To be sure, when it comes to party leadership posts, ideology generally takes a back seat to more practical considerations. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that a lot of Republican insiders are trying to find a way to lower the party’s social conservative profile. What they understand is this: It’s the geography, stupid. For the GOP, “social conservatives” means “white evangelicals,” and white evangelicals are distributed highly unevenly around the country. In 2008, they were insufficient to hold those linchpins of GOP national success, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Any effort to rebuild the party has to look to capturing states outside the evangelical heartland, and that means being able to appeal to “social moderates”–pro-choice suburbanites who have no particular problem with gay marriage. And that means having party leaders who are not hamstrung by “moral values.”