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A Second Look at the WSJ's Poll on the "Truce"

A matter of "focus."

4:14 PM, Mar 4, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Ben Smith writes

Mitch Daniels may be getting heat from a well-organized socially conservative grassroots, but Republicans nationally are on his side, the new WSJ/NBC poll finds:

Nearly two thirds of Republican primary voters said they would be “more likely” to vote for a GOP primary candidate who says the party should focus more on the economy and the deficit and less on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Only 8% said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. The rest said they were unsure.

A caveat: I'm not sure it would poll this well in Iowa.

The problem with the WSJ poll is that it didn't really poll "the truce" as Daniels has described it. The poll posed the following question to 282 adults (not likely or even registered voters, mind you, but adults who say they'll vote in the GOP primary): 

Suppose a candidate running in the 2012 Republican primary for president says the party should focus MORE on issues such as the economy and federal budget deficit and focus LESS on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Would you be (ROTATE) -- more likely or less likely -- to vote for a Republican Presidential candidate who says this, or would this make no difference in how you might vote one way or the other?

Here's the thing: Daniels' "truce" isn't about simply "focusing more" on fiscal issues than social issues. He thinks social issues should be "set aside" until our fiscal house is in order. Though Daniels hasn't been entirely clear on what a truce would mean in practice, he has suggested that it is not simply a matter of de-emphasis, but a matter of inaction (i.e. accepting the status quo while the president deals with the debt).

If Daniels' truce were simply about focusing more on fiscal issues, then few social conservatives would be criticizing him. 

“We’re not saying this has to be the only issue,” pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser recently told Politico's Alexander Burns.* “There’s not an insistence that it has to be No. 1, that it has to be made No. 1, when it defies the reality of the moment. ... We’re saying it has to be part of the issue set that is vital."

As I wrote recently, it's possible Daniels to walk back his "truce" comments by saying he simply meant that his top priorities will be the economy and federal debt. That's what the WSJ poll found support for, and that's something social conservative leaders wouldn't have a problem with.

*Incidentally, Burns's Politico piece does a good job of gauging how social conservatives see the 2012 race, but I'm not quite so sure that it's premise--that the "new reality" of GOP politics is "not all about" social issues--is correct. The GOP primary has never been "all about" or mostly about social issues. As the piece aptly notes at the end, there is no openly pro-choice candidate like Rudy Giuliani in 2008 this time around. Nor is any plausible GOP candidate going to suggest, as John McCain did during the 2000 presidential primary, that Roe v. Wade should not be oveturned. It seems to me that the party is more pro-life than ever before.

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