Rush Limbaugh Leads Republicans Right Into Social Issues Trap

Republicans can't get a moderate to win in the primary and they can't get a right-wing candidate to win in the general.

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LAKEWOOD, COLO.—I'd like to begin this blog post by thanking Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Darrell Issa, and Senate Republican, because their attacks on contraception and Georgetown student Sandra Fluke might be the 2012 equivalent of former Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck's "buyer's remorse" comment in his 2010 Colorado Senate race against Michael Bennet. Buck's use of that phrase in reference to the woman in a rape case he declined to prosecute, as well as his embrace of the "personhood" amendment that would ban many forms of contraception, doomed his candidacy in a swing state in a Republican wave year.

The protracted 2012 Republican primary, marked by former Gov. Mitt Romney having to go nuclear negative to beat his rivals, is causing severe blowback among general election voters. The contraception controversy has thrown gasoline on the fire. In three weeks, Republicans have managed to turn off and piss off not just voters in general, but especially women and independent voters in droves.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll bears this out: only 22 percent of independent voters give Romney a positive rating. More people said they were less enthusiastic about voting than they were last month. Even in a Fox News Latino poll, 45 percent of Latinos who voted for Sen. John McCain say they favor President Obama now. In direct match-ups, none of the GOP candidates would garner more than 14 percent of the Latino vote in November, the poll said.

In another serious danger sign for Republicans, the gender gap is becoming a chasm: Obama leads among women in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll 55 percent to 37 percent. Fun fact: there are 114,000 more women voters in Colorado than men, and they vote in higher percentages than men do. Meanwhile, the keynote speaker for the Larimer County (Fort Collins) Republicans Lincoln Day fundraising dinner on April 6 is none other than former Sen. Rick Santorum Super PAC bankroller Foster "Aspirin" Friess.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Those of us in the Rockies saw this coming.  In an April 8, 2011 U.S. News blog post I wrote,

...former Republican State Party Chair Dick Wadhams admitted it [personhood] likely cost Ken Buck a Senate seat.

He told National Journal's Ron Brownstein, "If our presidential nominee in 2012…appears too extreme on abortion or gay marriage or some other social issue, there's a slice of the electorate that clearly could go back to Obama."

And the Democrats know that. Obama adviser David Axelrod told Brownstein he is specifically looking at the Colorado model.

...If the Obama campaign is smart—and I have no doubt it is—it will spend the slow-cooking Republican presidential nomination process to pound Republicans on social issues and make their candidate unacceptable to Western voters in particular.

And the Republicans have walked straight into the trap. Like Colorado in 2010, national Republicans in 2012 have to placate their far-right base in the primary, which hurts them with Latinos, independents, and women in the general. They can't get a moderate to win in the primary and they can't get a right-wing candidate to win in the general.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Will the Culture Wars Benefit the GOP in the 2012 Election?]

They can't stop talking about social issues, even as contraception is a fact of life for 99 percent of American women and a majority of Americans support gay rights, including a plurality in the NBC News poll who back gay marriage. The Republicans are too driven by the talk radio universe of Rush Limbaugh and a primary in which only the base of the base is turning out because their candidates aren't generating any excitement.

In Colorado, we've seen this play out before. And it didn't turn out well for Republicans last time.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican party.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.
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