A skirmish is breaking out on the right just when key components of the Republican coalition - the fiscal, social and national-defense conservatives - appeared to have a tacit agreement to focus on economic issues going into the 2010 midterm elections.
The dispute erupted Thursday when prominent social conservative Tony Perkins challenged Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to retreat from his stance that abortion should be put on the political back burner until the nation overcomes its fiscal woes.
In his newsletter, the president of the Family Research Council complained that Mr. Daniels, widely considered an A-list contender in the 2012 Republican presidential contest, has become “noncommittal about his role as a pro-life leader.”
What sparked Mr. Perkins’ ire, he said, was a report in the neoconservative Weekly Standard that quoted Mr. Daniels as saying the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. … We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while.”
Mr. Perkins said Mr. Daniels “wouldn’t even agree to a modest step like banning taxpayer-funded promotion of abortion overseas - which President Bush did on his first day in office, with 65 percent of the country’s support.”
Mr. Daniels could not be reached for comment, but a pro-life conservative co-founder of the Republican National Conservative Caucus attempted to bring Mr. Perkins and Mr. Daniels together, fearing high-profile Republicans may feel obliged to take sides and thereby undermine GOP unity and the prospects of making a major move on Democratic control of Congress. Leaders in the various factions agree that jobs and economic growth are what voters care about now.
“Fiscal responsibility and support for the pro-life position do not have to be mutually exclusive,” said Oregon Republican National Committee member Solomon Yue, who was seeking to mend fences. “We can defend life while stopping President Obama’s march toward socialism.”
Indiana Republican National Committee member Jim Bopp, a social conservative, defended his states governor, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, saying Mr. Daniels would never abandon the issues of social conservatives.
“Mitch Daniels has pursued a spectacularly successful and consistent conservative agenda,” Mr. Bopp said. “This has included social issues as well as economic and fiscal ones, even though the economic and fiscal issues have been the most serious ones for him to deal with.”
In chastising Mr. Daniels, Mr. Perkins said he supports the “governor 100 percent on the call for fiscal responsibility, but nothing is more fiscally responsible than ending the taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion promotion.”
He also implied that Mr. Daniels was trying to seek out a moderate position that would separate him from the bevy of potential candidates that will hug the pro-life issue when seeking the Republican nomination, and accused the governor of being a prisoner of the establishment, which he called afraid of making fiscal restraint and defense of the “unborn” co-equal quests.
“Regardless of what the establishment believes, fiscal and social conservatism have never been mutually exclusive,” Mr. Perkins said. “Without life, there is no pursuit of happiness. Thank goodness the Founding Fathers were not timid in their leadership; they understood that ‘truce’ was nothing more than surrender.”
Mr. Yue said that both Mr. Perkins and Mr. Daniels should remember that “capitalism, with its moral foundation, fails only with big government intervention and more socialism. So defending life and defending moral foundations are both important.”
“Social conservatives do know that the attention of people is more focused on jobs, mortgages and retirement accounts, but it’s also true that Obamacare ran into problems on the life issue,” Mr Yue said. “So conservatism and the life issue are very much linked.”