At the moment, conservatives are divided on which horse to back in the nomination process. On the one hand are conservatives who, not unreasonably, regard Hillary as the worst-case scenario, and so they view Rudy or Romney or McCain as the lesser of two evils—on the assumption that one of these three is more electable than a more clearcut conservative like Huckabee or Ron Paul. Anything is preferable to Hillary.
On the other hand are conservatives who think this would be a case of destroying the village to save the village. This, in turn, embroils us in the perennial issue of “single-issue voters,” which is used as a pejorative label.
Here I want to make a couple of observations:
i) Is there something wrong with being a “single-issue voter”? What does that mean, exactly?
As a rule, prolifers are social conservatives. They aren’t just conservative about abortion (there are exceptions, but that’s pretty rare). It’s misleading to describe them as single-issue voters, as if that’s all they care about.
Rather, I think the position of many prolifers is consciously or unconsciously more broad-based.
a) For one thing, proabortionists are ordinarily social liberals. They aren’t just liberal on abortion. Rather, their views of abortion are symptomatic of their social views generally.
So I suspect many prolifers don’t feel that you need to go beyond this “single issue” in judging a candidate, since his position on abortion is a hendiadys for his social values generally.
Many prolifers may indeed regard abortion as an all-important issue. But, as a practical matter, it rarely comes down to abortion as the only decisive issue, since any candidate who supports abortion on demand will almost invariably support all of the other socially liberal positions as well.
Since they’ve never been giving the option of voting for a candidate who’s wrong on abortion, but right about everything else, it’s pretty meaningless to accuse them of being myopic or obsessive, for it’s not as if they’ve ever had the occasion to vote for a candidate who’s wrong on their “single issue,” but right about everything else they value.
A prolifer may well regard a number of other social issues as equally important. But because a proabortionists is almost bound to be equally bad on equally important social issues, the prolifer has no incentive to go beyond his “single issue.” It’s a defining issue on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s a way in which you position yourself along the political spectrum, which takes in all the other rightwing or leftwing positions.
b) For another thing, the fact that they’re stubborn and single-minded about abortion doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they care about. But I suspect many of them draw the line with abortion on the grounds that we’re not in a position to move beyond abortion until we succeeded in achieve our objectives on abortion.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, and they had done as much as they could do to restrict abortion on a state-by-state basis (mainly in red states), they would be happy to turn their priorities to another issue. They have a long list of social issues they care about.
But what’s the point of abandoning a bridge that’s only halfway across the river to begin building another bridge upstream, only to abandon that project before it’s complete in order to begin building yet another bridge downstream? They feel they’ve made some progress on the issue of abortion, and they don’t want to scuttle the project before it’s finished. That’s a reasonable position.
c) Apropos (a), the critics of “single-issue voters” act as if the only problem with Rudy is that he’s liberal on abortion. To hear them talk, you’d think that he has the same social views as Abraham Kuyper apart from his pesky, anomalous support for abortion. But his position on abortion is hardly a fluke.
I don’t know if this is misrepresentation in part because the media simple-mindedly highlights his views on abortion while turning a blind-eye to his other equally liberal positions on personal and social ethics. But Rudy is a generic social liberal inasmuch as his views on abortion are part and parcel of a liberal package-deal on social values.
Now, you may still think that Rudy would be better than Hillary, but let’s honestly evaluate what he brings to the table instead of pretending that this all comes down to the single issue of abortion, as if that’s the only position on which Rudy takes a hard left turn.
ii) Conservative supporters of Rudy have a fallback argument. Yes, he’s personally liberal in his social values, but he will nominate conservative judicial candidates.
Well, that’s possible, but is it plausible? Rudy has been in politics for many years now. Does he have any track-record of opposing judicial activism? Or did he suddenly discover the virtues of Robert Bork after he decided to run for president?
And since we know he’s a social liberal, how sincere are his assurances? Isn’t this like George Bush on border control? Since his sympathies lie elsewhere, we get these halfhearted speeches and token gestures, but it’s business as usual. He always reverts to type.
How many times have we been down this road? I don’t regard gullibility as an intellectual virtue. Ironically, the “single-issue voter” is both an ideologue and a cynic. The conservative supporters of Rudy (or Romney) think the “single-issue voter” is being unrealistic. But the “single-issue voter” thinks the conservative supporters of Rudy (or Romney) are being unrealistic by taking their opportunistic campaign promises at face-value. They don’t oppose a RINO just because they’re ideological purists, but because they are also too jaded and worldly-wise to trust a RINO in sheep’s clothing.
Some have suggested that Rudy would keep his word to get reelected. But why would Rudy need to keep his word to get reelected? He doesn’t necessarily need the same voting block to be reelected as it took to get elected in the first place. Depending on how a president plays his cards, he can reconfigure his constituency in office. Look at how Ah-nuld has reinvented himself.
Now, we can still debate the odds of whether Rudy would be as bad as Hillary. One can argue that Hillary’s badness is a sure thing.
My immediate point is that I find conservative supporters of Rudy resorting to a combination of caricature and credulity. If they’re really going to take the pragmatic, tough-minded approach, Realpolitik approach, then they should be a bit more candid.