Motivating Conservatives, Security, and the 2008 Presidential Race

RightwingNews has (yet) another summary of the case againset Giuliani for the conservative GOP primary electorate.

While we agree that there are many things that are damning in the eyes of the electorate, we think that, to some extent, people are asking the wrong questions. I think that Chuck Larson gets it right in his discussion of McCain on Fox yesterday:

But from my perspective, the most important issue, whether it’s 2006 or 2008, is going to be national security and the global War on Terror. And Sen. McCain recognizes that we must win this war for our own nation’s security.

Now Larson is one of the leaders of moral conservatives in Iowa, but in the 3 reasons he gives for supporting McCain, his first is fiscal, his second in moral issues, but he thinks that McCain’s primary advantage is the war and security. This jives with what the RNC is telling people about motivating the base in 2006:

Ranking at the top of what will motivate Republicans in 2006 is dealing with the foreign threats to our national security and supporting the President’s leadership in the War on Terror. … A huge 87% of the Base expresses extremely strong feelings about one or more of these issues. …

For these three global War on Terror message areas, 93% of the Republican Base holds
extremely strong feelings about one or more of them.

Cultural Values. … An impressive 86% of the Base has extremely strong feelings about issues dealing with cultural issues – second in coverage to only the global War on Terror.

In other words, the big issues are security and moral issues. Fiscal issues, immigration, taxes, etc. all come far lower in the priorities. (interestingly, the RNC memo does not mention immigration at all. There could be a number of explanations for that. One of the simplest is that it is an issue that the leadership is divided on or might make voters angry. Another is that people probably won’t vote on it)
What we really think that means is that candidates have to pass a litmus test for conservatives (is he with us on abortion and other issues?) and then security and other issues will differentiate the candidates. Moral issues get people into consideration, not pick the candidate. We think that the recent Hotline/Diego poll makes this clear. GOPers #1 issues are terrorism and Iraq. Dems are Iraq (against) and jobs.

Therefore, we think that GOP primary voters are going to be asking “Which acceptable conservative do we want to lead the war on terror?” What does this mean for 08?

  1. If caucusgoers and primary voters are informed about Giuliani, he is going to struggle a lot. Giuliani has been doing great in the polls recently. However, the recent Iowa poll noted that 2/3rds of Iowa caucus voters will not support someone who doesn’t share their position on abortion. Will that hold? And who will tell the story on Giuliani? Clearly that is what RightWingNews is trying to do. And why don’t people ask if they are familar with Giuliani’s position on abortion, gay marriage, etc.? That would really tell us about his level of support.
  2. Romney’s greatest problem is that he has no record on the War on Terror or foreign policy. None. Even if people like him on gay marriage or healthcare or management, I predict that they will have a lot of trouble seeing him as Commander in Chief. Sure he can run the country, but can he lead it? Northeast liberals elect Republicans because they can manage and their legislatures can slap them down if they try to do something too far off the reservation.
  3. Newt Gingrich passes both tests. But will GOP voters think he is electable?
  4. McCain is the winner in this framing. He is probably acceptable to most conservatives (and he is finding people who will say “trust us, he’s fine”) on moral issues and he is a clear leader on the War (and I don’t mean Iraq).
  5. Everyone else is an also ran. Although people who vote for the most morally conservative candidate will have a choice between Huckabee or Brownback. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Therefore, until Romney gets a national security reputation of some sort or polls indicate that Giuliani can overcome his issues with social conservatives, McCain really is the front runner… And Newt Gingrich is the powerful challenger.