Social conservatives expect to be courted by just about every Republican presidential candidate. Statistically, we cannot be ignored by a serious campaign. While the Tea Party will certainly be a force in next year’s nominating contests, we know that we make up the majority of that movement and one-third of Republican primary voters. Thanks to the hard work of many leaders who encouraged evangelicals to engage in the political process, our opinions on social, economic, and foreign policy issues matter.
Garnering social conservative support is simply not as easy as it used to be. In the past, peppering a speech with red meat social issue talking points satisfied our activist community. To date, every announced and rumored Republican candidate embraces the pro-life label. To stand out from the crowd, candidates should start talking specifics.
For instance, candidates should call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Candidates who are wary of losing independents in a general election can support this policy while simultaneously proposing to fund organizations that provide the same non-abortion services as Planned Parenthood. There is no reason why mainstream Republicans should want more money going to an Obama-friendly political machine.
Although judicial nominees are not getting a lot of attention right now, the next president will have the ability to radically alter the Supreme Court’s makeup. Candidates should pledge to nominate conservative judges — and not be afraid to give some names as examples — to the federal bench. We know that “conservative” is code for a judge who is pro-life and committed to preserving our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage.
When it comes to foreign policy, we are looking for candidates who acknowledge the threat of radical Islam, not merely terrorism or extremism generally. We are sick and tired of hearing our president apologize for the war against Islamic terrorism. The Iranian regime, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood are enemies of the United States. There is nothing to negotiate and no room for compromise.
Many of our fellow Christians, living as minority religious populations around the word, are suffering at the hands of Islamist regimes. As our movement matures, we are beginning to engage more with these kinds of international human rights issues.
The Iran example is a good way to illustrate how all three traditional legs of the Republican Party combine. Iran is a pariah that poses a national security and economic threat to the United States while holding onto power by brutally oppressing its own citizens. Candidates should explain why the dangers posed by Iran go beyond its status as the number one state sponsor of terrorism. People are just beginning to learn about the growth of Iran and the presence of its terror affiliates in our own backyard, South America. There is no risk in coming out strongly on these issues early in the campaign because doing so won’t alienate independents.
Social conservatives want candidates who are strong supporters of Israel. We do not trust the Obama administration when it comes to supporting our most important and trusted ally in the Middle East. The U.S.-Israel relationship has the ability to unify conservatives around your campaign. Make a note of it, especially if your record is moderate or unclear on other major issues.
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid reform are moral issues, as is our growing national debt. These issues will define the debate in the general election but will only drive people to vote for you in a primary if you make clearly articulated proposals. We know that Republicans are against tax hikes, want to lower corporate taxes, repeal Obamacare and reform entitlement programs. Why do you have the tools to actually get it done and are you tough enough to implement an entitlement reform that Washington insiders and lifelong politicians consider tantamount to political suicide? It will take more than being against liberal economic policies to capture our attention in a crowded primary.
Evangelicals are fired up about the chance to defeat President Obama. We disagree with just about everything our president is doing and almost every idea he proposes, not because he is a Democrat but because he is extremely liberal. It’s true that social conservatives may pick and choose between a whole host of different candidates early in the campaign season. Do not let this be discouraging. As the race progresses, we will look for a candidate who unites us. If you win the nomination, you will need our grassroots energy — we will make the calls, knock on the doors, send the emails, and take our friends and family to the rallies.
Jordan Sekulow is Director of Policy and International Operations at the American Center for Law and Justice (www.aclj.org) and host of the Jordan Sekulow Show.