It will be a shame if Hurricane Isaac washes out the GOP convention in Tampa. Mitt Romney has done all the big things right so far in his run for the White House. He won a hotly contested Republican primary by sticking to an issues-oriented message that avoided attacking his opponents and isolating their supporters. Then, by picking Rep. Paul Ryan as his running-mate, he enheartened the conservative base and unified the party behind the ticket. Even though elephants are lined up for battle behind Romney-Ryan, there are a few policy differences bubbling beneath the surface.
Entitlement reform: This is the multi-trillion-dollar question Democrats and the liberal media are hoping will sink the GOP ticket this year. Already, there has been a sortie to blow holes between Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan in this area based on the brave reform proposals pushed by the vice-presidential candidate as chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Obama campaign is demagoguing the threat of Medicare and Social Security reform to try to scare enough seniors to cost Mr. Romney Florida and thus the election. Republicans have to signal that they have not yet begun to fight about this.
Same-sex unions: This should be a non-issue for the socially-conservative party. According to a July 31 survey by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Republicans oppose homosexual “marriage.” Despite a prevalent media narrative that Republicans are going increasingly wobbly on this issue, opposition has only dropped 3 points since four years ago, which hardly suggests the bottom is falling out of the ark. As with many fringe topics, the party needs to be careful not to give in to a loud but tiny minority at the risk of upsetting the conservative movement’s true believers, who make up the vast majority of GOP support.
Manufacturing base: For along time, discussion about America losing millions of blue-collar industrial jobs was characterized as a disagreement between free-traders and protectionists. It’s not so simple. Countless federal policies that go beyond trade hurt U.S. manufacturers, such as backwards union rules, punitive taxes and a regulatory regime that dares companies to move offshore. With real unemployment significantly over 10 percent (discounting the bureaucracy’s fudged statistics), it’s time to reexamine the suicidal dogma that we’ve moved onto being a service economy and it’s not important to make things domestically anymore. Prominent voices such as Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly are sounding the alarm on this issue, and voters in hard-hit Rustbelt swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will be listening carefully to what Romney-Ryan say about it.
Military spending: The Reagan coalition of defense hawks, economic conservatives and social traditionalists still forms the superstructure of the modern Republican Party, but there are some cracks in the hull. Libertarian and isolationist factions include a significant number of pacifists and non-interventionists that ardently promote cutting the Pentagon budget to discourage foreign adventurism. This drift can be contained in 2012 but is a growing factor for the Republican establishment to manage in future elections.
Abortion: There is less of a push to water down the pro-life plank in the Republican platform this year than in recent elections. This partially represents a national trend against abortion due to ultrasounds that show how developed unborn babies are in the womb and medical advancements that have dramatically pushed up viability earlier in a pregnancy. Still, there is opportunity for trouble if the incorrigible pro-abortion minority fires off some flares. The media would love to make a tempest in a teapot to mischaracterize the party as divided on abortion and rail about a supposedly extreme platform causing problems for the ticket. It’s vital to plug even the smallest leak in the planking on this one.
The Romney team’s careful navigating has led to mostly smooth sailing so far in this election year. In the week ahead, various constituencies in the Republican coalition will stir up some wake at the convention. So long as no one is asleep at the wheel and the captain walks the decks to ease mutinous grumbling, it should be possible to stay on course, avoid choppy seas and not run aground on the rocks. Mr. Romney’s campaign is in shipshape and steaming toward safe harbor in November.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).