I’m never more of a partisan than on election night. All my misgivings about the Republican Party dissolve and I become like a sports fan tabulating my team’s essential statistics. Then Wednesday arrives, and the spasm of partisan enthusiasm fades into a renewed realism.
Don’t misunderstand me: This Wednesday was far more pleasant than the first Wednesday of November, 2012. The party that institutionally favors redefining marriage, diminishing legal protections for the unborn, and rolling back religious liberty protections for those who disagree with those initiatives was lacerated on Tuesday night. A slice to the Democratic Party’s political power was expected, but this wound was much deeper than all but the most cocksure conservatives anticipated.
More than that, Republican victories occurred in particular ways and in particular races that should buttress the confidence of social conservatives.
- Wendy Davis, a pro-abortion superstar for her theatrical but unsuccessful filibuster in favor of late-term abortion, lost her bid for Texas governor by 20 points, including losing women by ten points.
- In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall, nicknamed Mark Uterus by media and even some supporters for his single-minded focus on “war on women” messaging, was unseated with room to spare by Cory Gardner.
- Both the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List and the pro-marriage National Organization for Marriage spent money trying to evict North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan. They succeeded, installing conservative Thom Tillis, who pursued legal battles against same-sex marriage as Speaker of the North Carolina House, as the next Tar Heel senator.
- Joni Ernst, the new senator from Iowa, supported a “personhood” amendmentthe type of constitutional amendment that extends the legal definition of a person to the unbornas a state legislator. She won despite attacks on this pro-life record.
Tuesday, then, was not just disastrous for the Democratic Party; it was particularly disastrous for pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood. In my home state of Pennsylvania, for instance, despite a strong Democratic victory in the governor’s race, every Planned Parenthood-endorsed legislative candidate in a reasonably contested race was defeated. This should not be minimized. We can say without hyperbole that elections like the 2014 midterms save innocent lives.
It is dangerous, though, to point to a successful election as the singular national endorsement of one’s preferred policies. More likely than not one of the next few federal elections will strongly favor the Democrats; this will not be a mandate for abortion on demand. Advocacy organizations will do what they do, and there is value to temporary triumphalism. Demure political movements do not succeed. But the fact is that long-term cultural trends will not be slaked by a single midterm convulsion.
In a national electorate where 37 percent of voters were older than sixty, NOM’s success in North Carolina and elsewhere, despite the press releases that I assume were dutifully composed, does not foreshadow anti-same-sex marriage backlash. On the LGBT front, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s decision to oppose any religious liberty expansion bills in that state’s legislature is far more important to the future of Republican politics than Thom Tillis or Joni Ernst. As other state chambers follow suit (and they will), they will speak much more loudly than ambiguous election results to the power brokers who determine the direction of the party.
Amid the unconscionable spin from pro-abortion groups and their cable news lackeys on election night there was a fiber of truth: The most notable successful candidates did not really run on social conservatism. (This of course didn’t stop organizations like NARAL from suggesting that Cory Gardner wanted to ban contraception.) Ernst downplayed her support of fetal personhood as symbolic. Gardner positioned himself as the defender of women’s rights by supporting over-the-counter contraception. Despite his opponent’s pro-abortion notoriety, Texas governor-elect Greg Abbott rarely, if ever, exploited the issue in his campaign. These were all strategic decisions.
Now, outside groups like SBA-List and NOM did successfully exploit this messaging. This is why such advocacy organizations are important: They bring to campaigns the effective social conservative messaging that would otherwise be absent, ensuring that the rhetorical battlefield is not ceded to progressives. But if we expect a new birth of social conservative boldness in the GOP in the wake of this election, we will be disappointed.
These midterm elections were a victory for social conservatives. The president will be unable to nominate a radical Supreme Court justice should a vacancy occur. For the next two years, symbolic but strategic pro-life legislation can be passed, forcing the president’s veto. It may even turn out that these elections have set up single-party control of Washington come 2017, when substantive conservative legislation can become law. These are important, life-saving developments.
But this was not an inflection point, either for our culture, or our national politics, or the Republican Party. The political ratification of cultural change, particularly on abortion, depends on the enthusiastic support of one of our major parties. But cultural conservatives are no more appreciated by the GOP than they were on Monday. We may have brought the cake, but we still aren’t invited to the party.
Brandon McGinley is a 2010 graduate of Princeton University. He writes from Pittsburgh, where he works for the Pennsylvania Family Institute and lives with his wife and daughter.