By Teresa Welsh |
While a focus on social issues may benefit Rick Santorum during the GOP primaries, if Republicans want to win this fall they'd be smart to keep a laser focus on economic issues. As Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair of the president's commission on debt reduction, put it: We face "the most predictable economic crisis in history," and Republicans can make a devastating case against the administration on those grounds alone. According to Gallup, consistent majorities of Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy and believe the economy is the most important problem facing our country.
There are three reasons Republicans should keep the economy front and center in the 2012 election. First, every GOP candidate should be making a case for long-term debt reduction—similar to the one proposed by the Simpson-Bowles commission—including spending caps, entitlement reform, and a simplified tax code with lower rates and an end to "crony capitalism," because it would unify both fiscal and social conservatives. A social conservative at the top of the GOP risks alienating candidates running for state and local office; a fiscal conservative doesn't haven't that problem. Not every Republican is a social conservative, but we're all fiscal conservatives.
Second, a pro-growth message will also draw independent voters. These days, the largest voting bloc in the electorate is independent voters—and polls show that far more of them are concerned with the economy and jobs than with same-sex marriage and home schooling.
Third, Republicans should recall that in many families, women are the breadwinners. Women make most of the day-to-day financial and healthcare decisions for their families. There's a reason "pocketbook" issues are called that—because so many women respond to a message of fiscal responsibility. Republicans would be wise to remember that women comprised 53 percent of the electorate in 2008 and stay on an optimistic, family-oriented economic message.
A common sense, pro-growth agenda for turning the economy around, reining in government spending, and creating jobs will unify the GOP and appeals across the board to women and independent voters. With social issues, you can only win some of the voters some of the time. If Republicans continue to emphasize social issues, they will lose the election.
About Mary Kate Cary Former White House Speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush
Simon Rosenberg President and Founder of NDN
Jamal Simmons Principal at The Raben Group
Jeffrey Bell Author of 'The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism'