Q&A Friday #80: Why Does The GOP Cater More To Social Conservatives Than Fiscal Conservatives?

Question: “Why do people in the GOP always worry about not pissing off the “social conservatives,” but they seem less worried about pissing off the “fiscal/security conservatives” for whom the social issues are far further down the priority list?” — RtWingNtCase

Answer: The basic problem with fiscal conservatism is that everyone favors it in the abstract, but the system is geared to reward big spenders.

For example, it doesn’t matter how wasteful a program is, if someone in Congress votes to even cut the rate of growth a single percentage point, they’ll be hit with attack ads saying, “Senator So&So helped slash funds for the children/ orphans/ puppies / kitten / orphaned, childlike puppies / etc. Why does he hate them so much?” Meanwhile, his opponent will promise to spend money on those programs and the voters will eat it up.

On the other hand, the very same senator can vote down 4 out of every 5 pork programs that come across his desk and fiscal conservatives will give him zero credit for it because he also voted for some ridiculous project as part of a trade to get some pork for his district. Meanwhile, he’ll be catching hell from his constituents because he’s not bringing home enough bacon for them.

That’s the system we have and it tends to generate exactly what we have: a lot of politicians who talk tough about balancing the budget while trying to spend as much money as they can get away with.

When it comes to social conservatives, I think they’re a little easier to please on the issues. Most of them want someone who’s adamantly pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and can be trusted to appoint originalist judges. If you do that and make a few key symbolic gestures to let them know you’re on their side, (Think Bush saying Jesus is his favorite philosopher), they’re generally happy.

Also, it’s worth noting that the candidates are falling all over themselves reaching out to social conservatives now that they’ve started migrating to Mike Huckabee, but the social cons only went that way because the other candidates weren’t doing very much to cater to them.

So, it may seem as if it’s all about the social conservatives at the moment, but for most of the election cycle, the candidates have been paying much more attention to the “fiscal/security conservatives” than the “social conservatives.”

PS: One other point worth making: for the most part in the GOP, fiscal conservatives and social conservatives agree on the issues. Although there are certainly exceptions, social conservatives tend to be fiscal conservatives and fiscal conservatives tend to be social conservatives — each group just tends to care more about a different set of issues. In other words, James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Ralph Reed probably agree with Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg, and Thomas Sowell on 90% of the issues, but the former group probably cares a little more about, say gay marriage, while the latter group might care a little more about tax cuts.

That’s a point worth making because I think that in the process of analyzing these sorts of things, there’s a tendency to overemphasize the differences between the branches of the party.

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