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Can Mitch Daniels Be Saved from Himself?

11:52 AM, Feb 18, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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As for the political side of the equation: I haven't seen data to suggest that a truce on social issues would help a Republican win the presidency. Polls show that the country is about evenly split on the question of whether abortion should be generally legal or generally illegal (with exceptions for rare cases, such as when the pregnancy threatens the mother's life or was the result of rape). As Ramesh Ponnuru has been pointing out for some time, voters who see abortion as an important issue in determing how they vote are much more pro-life than pro-choice. Back in April of 1984, Ronald Reagan published a short book, Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. He won 49 states that November. 

In 2010, we saw a number of Republicans win races in battlground states--Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, just to name a few. And, while these pro-life candidates emphasized the pressing fiscal issues at hand, they all managed to win without declaring a "truce" on social issues. Almost all of the Republican freshmen are pro-life, including many from blue districts, such as Ann Marie Buerkle and Michael Grimm of New York and Bobby Schilling and Joe Walsh of Illinois. Republican Blake Farenthold's strategy of directly attacking Democrat Ciro Rodriguez on the abortion issue seems to have worked in a 71-percent Hispanic district. Rodriguez was just one of many self-described pro-life Democrats who voted for Obamacare and fared badly.

Listening to some pundits and consultants, you'll hear that the Republican Party, now dominated by the Tea Party or movement conservative wing, doesn't care about social issues. As Dick Morris wrote in one column, "social issues are nowhere on the Tea Party agenda." How does he know?

I recently participated in a conference call with tea-party affiliates throughout the country. During the question period that followed my speech, one leader of a local tea-party group asked a question about abortion. The conference-call leader jumped in before I could answer and ruled the query out of order. “Our priorities are to oppose taxes, support fiscal conservatism, and advance free-market principles,” she scolded the questioner. “We do not take a position on social issues like abortion,” she added.

As important as the opinion of one self-appointed Tea Party leader who organized a conference call may be, it's worth noting that all of the Tea Party Senate candidates in 2010 were pro-life. In fact, the abortion issue was a significant reason why Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter had to flee the Republican Party. Pro-choice candidates also lost GOP Senate primaries in California, New Hampshire, Alaska, Delaware, and New York.

One might think that the "truce" might play well for Daniels in the New Hampshire primary, but take a close look at the 2010 New Hampshire Senate primary where abortion became a big issue. Kelly Ayotte was backed by Sarah Palin and pro-life groups--as attorney general, Ayotte's name was even on a Supeme Court case against Planned Parenthood. But Tea Partier Ovide LaMontagne, backed by Jim DeMint, criticized Ayotte during debates for not opposing abortion in all cases. Ayotte ended up winning with 38 percent of the vote, while LaMontagne took 37 percent of the vote. Pro-choice multi-millionaire Bill Binnie got 14 percent, and pro-choice candidate Jim Bender got 9 percent. It's been a long time since Granite State Republicans nominated pro-choice Warren Rudman for Senate, and Daniels would have a tough time spurning socially conservative voters in New Hampshire in 2012, just as Rudy Giuliani did in 2008.

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