Today's guest post is from Professor Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, where he teaches about American politics, campaigns and elections, and the presidential nomination process. He is also a fellow at UNH's Carsey School of Public Policy. He has been observing and commenting on New Hampshire politics since he arrived just in time for the 2000 presidential primary. He's currently working on his second book (with co-author Henry Olsen), on the voters who will participate next year across the country in Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. This fall, he is teaching a free online open course on the New Hampshire primary with his colleague Andrew Smith of the UNH Survey Center. You can sign up for it here: http://cola.unh.edu/article/2015/02/online-primary
No non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate has ever won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in the same calendar year. Last week’s historic Supreme Court decision, guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry, has made it less likely that a Republican will succeed in doing so next winter.
As Jonathan Martin of the New York Times observes, some Republicans see conservatives’ heavy losses in the culture wars as an opportunity to change the political conversation in 2016 to economics and national security. Count many New Hampshire Republicans among them. In 2012, almost half of this Republican primary electorate identified themselves as moderates and liberals. They are deeply ambivalent on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. They accept that the nominee of their party must take conservative positions on moral and social issues, but they do not want a nominee who emphasizes these issues in their political advertisements and on the stump. (See Romney, Mitt.) It is no accident that the last two Iowa caucus winners, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, gained little traction (much less momentum) in New Hampshire.
In 2016, New Hampshire Republicans gratefully will accept presidential candidates who gracefully admit defeat in the culture wars, a battle most wished that the party never fought in the first place. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, for example, offered largely overlapping statements regarding last week’s Supreme Court decision, expressing disagreement but ultimate acceptance. So what do Bush and Rubio offer evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives, who have been stout allies of the Republican Party for more than three decades? A vague promise of future protection of religious freedom in an undeniably pluralist America, as BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray and McKay Coppins sharply illustrate.
It is unclear why evangelical Christians, a significant portion of Iowa’s Republican caucus-goers, will find these terms of surrender acceptable, especially when many of Bush and Rubio’s rivals vow to fight on. Count on candidates such as Santorum, Huckabee (and Huckabee wanna-bes such as Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal) to discuss the “judicial tyranny” of the Supreme Court early and often over the next several months – and to set a clear contrast between themselves and those Republicans who are unwilling to stand and fight for moral values. What we may learn over the next year is how deep the divide is between the secular and the religious within the Republican Party.
Stuck standing over this divide is Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor has been hailed as a candidate who would appeal to all factions of the national Republican primary electorate. His ability to be that Reaganesque consensus candidate will be sorely tested in the aftermath of this past week. On Friday, Walker expressed support for a Constitutional amendment that would override the Supreme Court and guarantee that states could decide the issue of same-sex marriage for themselves. The very next day, at a meeting of Western conservatives in Denver, Walker seemed unwilling to discuss the subject. In the months ahead, as his rivals continue to court Iowa’s social conservatives, will Walker have any choice but to follow suit and double down on the culture war? If so, the more that Walker’s campaign is drawn into Iowa’s orbit, the more difficult it will become for him to escape it in order to become a contender in the New Hampshire primary.