Editors Note: The following Op-ed appeared in Politico.
Conservative leaders and activists, in Washington this week for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, should be full of enthusiasm and hope, given the midterm election victories. Just two years ago, many were proclaiming the movement’s death — or, at a minimum, an exile of at least 40 years in the political wilderness.
Unfortunately, this event is clouded by a controversy that threatens to separate the winning Ronald Reagan conservative coalition from itself. It could condemn conservatives to fractious infighting that, if left unchecked, may ultimately result in losing all we have gained — both recently and over the past few decades.
Conservatives should be parlaying our hard-fought victories into both sensible policy, which will help the American people, and an energized, united front, focused on winning back the White House and Senate in 2012.
The winning Reagan coalition – or three-legged conservative stool, as many have described it — is in jeopardy. Efforts to divide conservatives against themselves must be renounced, repudiated and put to rest once and for all.
Each segment of the conservative movement needs the others for victory. Social conservatives cannot win without fiscal and national security conservatives — and vice versa. The movement’s electoral victories in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2010 all bear witness to this.
For decades, liberal forces in Washington, in Hollywood, in the news media, in academia, and elsewhere have tried to undermine conservative successes by pressuring Republican Party leaders to distance themselves from social conservatives. Some leaders have caved to this pressure to the party’s detriment.
Now, those same forces are trying to drive social conservatives out of the conservative movement.
This is both pathetic and dangerous.
Social conservatives have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fiscal conservatives on taxes, spending and the growth of government. Abortion was the one issue that almost killed the entire Obamacare bill. If a handful of Democratic congressmen, who claim to be pro-life, hadn’t betrayed their constituents in 2010, there would be no Obamacare — with its excessive taxes and exponential growth of government — to repeal in 2011.
Similarly, social conservatives have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with national security conservatives on the war on terror, military readiness and national security.
The attack on social conservatives centers on their honorable defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Social conservatives rightly believe that marriage and family are two of the foundational cornerstones of American society — on which we as Americans have built a country that is the envy of the world.
The attacks are somewhat bewildering – given that 31 states have already codified marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and more are likely to follow. These states include some of the country’s most liberal: Maine, Oregon and California (twice).
There is an opportunity to expand the conservative coalition on this issue, as 70 percent of African-Americans in California voted in favor of Proposition 8 in 2008 — the same election in which more than 90 percent of them voted for Barack Obama.
Some have said that the tea party movement and its candidates disavow social issues, and the key to an alliance with the tea party is to distance ourselves from social conservatives. This is false — as both tea party polling data and the 2010 election returns prove.
The “Republican” victory in the House included a net gain of 52 pro-life/pro-family members — creating the first pro-life majority in Congress in decades. Many of these freshman congressmen and women are tea party members.
The Reagan coalition, to survive and succeed, needs to be a unified alliance of fiscal, national security and social conservatives. These three factions can disagree. But those disagreements should not harm the incredible gains made by the conservative movement and threaten the energized and resilient spirit of the movement today.
James C. Miller III served as budget director under President Ronald Reagan. Penny Young Nance is the chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America.