Social conservatives split on whether defunding Planned Parenthood would redeem Daniels after call for social issues ‘truce’

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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When legislation to defund Planned Parenthood hit the desk of Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels late Wednesday night, headlines excitedly proclaimed ‘the truce is over,’ referring to Daniels’ remark last year that the next president would need to call a ‘truce on social issues.’ But social conservatives, many of whom were infuriated by Daniels’ comment, are divided on whether signing the bill would absolve Daniels, who is considering a run for president in 2012. While signing the bill could put Daniels on the road to redemption, many leaders in the social conservative community say it will not get him all the way there.

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, argued Daniels needed to do more to mitigate his earlier remark: he needed to renounce it.

“I think that’s how he gets himself out of this: he acknowledges that he was wrong in calling for a truce on social issues,” Perkins said.

“It’s a step in the right direction to do what would be the responsible thing to do and sign this bill into law, with a clarifying statement of just why you can’t separate” the two issues, Perkins said. “I think you could hold that [bill] up and say, ‘I wasn’t completely clear in my earlier comments, and this is an example of where these two issues do meet, and we’ve got to take them on.’”

Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, has been in the past equally condemnatory of the idea of separating social and economic issues. At a recent event hosted by Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, Reed said: “You know someone suggested we call a truce on social and moral issues. I seem to remember Ronald Reagan fighting and winning the Cold War at the very time that he was restoring values and growing the economy. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to have a leader that can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Those comments were understood by most to be a direct attack on Daniels, but Reed has since explained that he did not mean for those remarks to be a pointed attack on the Indiana governor, who he says is someone he thinks “very highly” of.

“Well, I don’t really have any argument with Mitch Daniels,” said Reed in an interview with NPR last week. “He’s a friend. He’s a great governor of Indiana. He’s doing a terrific job in that state, and I think he’d be very qualified to be president. And I hope he – and I hope he runs. I really do.”

“He’s pro-life, he’s pro-family, and he’s pro-marriage, and he’s been a pro-life governor,” Reed elaborated, in a conversation with The Daily Caller. “So I don’t have any complaint with his policy positions at all.”

“I think the only reservation that I have is I think ‘truce’ is an inartful phrase, because it implies both sides agreeing to lay down their arms, so to speak.”

“Obama has no intention of abiding by a truce,” he continued. “He’s got an agenda, he’s going to continue to push it.”

Reed said that while Daniels may have phrased it poorly, he said he understood the sentiment, and did not have any problem with it.

“I think what he was trying to say is when your house is on fire, before you can do anything else you need to put the fire out,” said Reed, adding that he didn’t “have any dispute” with the fact that voters were primarily focused on economic issues in 2010, and that 2012 would be a similar situation.

“But, at the risk of stating the obvious,” he continued, “when you deal with things like Obamacare and the budget, there’s almost no way to not touch on cultural and social issues because the budget is about priorities, and it’s really about how you intend to run the government. So even if you say that your objective is to balance the budget or rein in out of control spending, you’re still going to have certain flashpoints, like, are you going to fund Planned Parenthood? Are you going to fund abstinence based education?”

Reed said he didn’t feel that Daniels’ call for a ‘truce’ intended to subordinate social issues to economic issues in any way.

“Based on my knowledge of his views, I don’t think that’s what he believes,” said Reed. “I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. I don’t think that’s what he was trying to say.”

In Iowa, home of the first election contest of the primary season and a hotbed of social conservatism, opinions are similarly mixed.

“I think he’ll have to explain that position,” said Steve Scheffler, president of Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, “because, to me, saying that there’s a truce on social issues means that they should take a backseat to economic issues.”

“For most caucus goers here in Iowa, those issues go hand and hand,” he continued, “and one is not more important than the other.”

Just signing the bill to defund Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be enough for most Iowa voters, Scheffler said. Most caucus goers, he said, will interpret Daniels’ call for a ‘truce’ as meaning “that those things should not be addressed.”

“I think it’s great if he signs the bill, but he will still have to explain his position on that,” Scheffler said. As far as “giving people faith that he will address both issues, signing that bill alone will not be enough.”

Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, another influential social conservative group in Iowa, had a different take.

“We always say actions speak louder than words,” he said.

“If he shows and he proves that he is solidly pro life,” and favors the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, “and his actions are their to back him up,” then, said Vander Plaats, “I think Iowans, Republican caucus primary voters are going to listen to his vision for the country.”

Vander Plaats acknowledged that Daniels would probably need to clarify the ‘truce’ remark, but said that it certainly had not put him out of contention.

“He’s got plenty of time to explain it,” Vander Plaats said, “and I think any person that comes into this campaign for president has probably got to explain something, you know, something that they said, something that they did. And I think it’s ok once in a while to say that ‘I was wrong there,’ ‘I used a wrong choice of words’…I think at least Iowans are a pretty forgiving lot.”

“What we want to know is where your heart is,” he continued. “And if he signs this legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, that’s a good signal of where his heart is.”

It is not a given that Daniels will sign the bill. He also has the power to veto it, though that appears to be unlikely. Alternatively, he could do nothing, and the bill will become law when the legislative session ends in a week.