Psychologists have discovered that the most important factor in predicting whether a marriage will succeed or fail is the existence of contempt. When one or both partners display contempt — the intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior — the union, ultimately and almost inevitably, will fail.
Psychologist John Gottman has even developed a methodology that enables him to predict divorce with an astonishingly high degree of accuracy, up to 90 percent. While watching a couple interact, Mr. Gottman looks for the subtle signs — microexpressions such as an eye roll or a patronizing tone — that reveal not just displeasure or disapproval, but also the hostile inflexibility that is a hallmark of contempt.
As a political analyst and Republican of more than 30 years, I am saddened to say this, but contempt has contaminated the Republican Party. And much of the contempt has been directed at one partner in the party’s marriage, religious conservatives. If the Republican partnership is to survive, the contempt must end.
Intraparty contempt has been most conspicuous in some Republicans’ treatment of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In a recent Palin hit piece in Vanity Fair, Todd S. Purdum quoted several Republican strategists and advisers from Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign who referred to Mrs. Palin as everything from a “diva” to a “whack job.” Others suggested Mrs. Palin suffered from postpartum depression on the campaign trail last fall after the birth of her son Trig, who has Down syndrome.
Since announcing her resignation as governor, Mrs. Palin has been excoriated by numerous Republican journalists, who have described her time in the spotlight as “rather horrifying” and “a political train wreck.” Former McCain adviser John Weaver dismissed Mrs. Palin’s presidential prospects, saying, “She is the darling of a certain element” of the Republican Party.
Sadly, Republican contempt for that “element” — social and religious conservatives — is nothing new. I noticed it back in 2007 as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential candidacy began to generate interest. Social conservatives opposed to Mr. Giuliani were ridiculed for being childish or fanatical, while pro-Giuliani religious conservatives were patted on the head and informed that they finally had reached “political adulthood.”
Republican attacks on religious conservatives only intensified after the election. A subhead on a Washington Post column by former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Robert M. Bostoc declared that the Republican Party “won’t win back the middle as long as it’s hostage to social fundamentalists.” Columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party” and that religious conservatives form the party’s “lowest brows” and are “an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.”
But there are many reasons why contemptuous Republicans should think twice before filing divorce papers. Here are three.
c White evangelical voters remain indispensable to the Republican Party. They also are an increasing share of the electorate, up from 23 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2008. Three-fourths of white evangelical voters voted for Mr. McCain in November, and 85 percent of them have a “favorable” opinion of Mrs. Palin, according to the latest Pew poll. At a time when the party is hemorrhaging voters from many demographics, it can ill afford to dump its most reliable voting bloc.
c Social issues aren’t going away. In just the first few months of his presidency, President Obama has overturned many of President George W. Bush’s pro-life gains. And there likely will be a fight over how abortion is addressed in the Democrats’ upcoming health care reform proposal. Meanwhile, homosexual rights activists are pushing hard for Mr. Obama to advance their agenda, which includes rescinding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which recognizes marriage as an institution involving one man and one woman. While the economy continues to dominate politics, the ambitiousness of Mr. Obama’s domestic social agenda guarantees that cultural issues will remain prominent.
c As the Republican Party looks to the future, a principal challenge will be to find ways to attract minority voters. Polls show black and Hispanic voters are significantly more religious, pro-life and supportive of traditional marriage than the general electorate. All three of last year’s state marriage amendments passed with decisive help from minority voters, underscoring that conservative positions on social issues will help Republicans as they court these voters.
The Republican Party’s recent woes are a result not of an America that no longer appreciates conservative principles, but of a party that failed to live up to the vows it made to the nation 30 years ago. But there are reasons for hope.
With each passing day, as the failure of the Obama administration’s neo-socialism becomes more graphic, the public is turning back to conservative principles. Republicans have every reason to believe better days are ahead, but only if we stay together.
All marriages go through peaks and valleys, and the marriage of the unique but complementary partners in the Republican Party is no different. Some have argued that the Republican partnership never was a love marriage, but rather a marriage of convenience, a coalition born of the need to counteract decades of Democratic dominance. Call me a romantic, but I don’t believe that is so.
An estranged couple can rekindle their marriage by recalling what attracted them to each other in the first place. If Republicans can rediscover what initially brought them together — the shared conservative ideals of limited government, fiscal restraint, military strength and traditional values — this marriage can be saved. But first, the contempt must end.
Gary Bauer is chairman of Campaign for Working Families and is a former candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.