Beyond the debt and the deficit, in Daniels’s telling, all other issues fade to comparative insignificance. He’s an agnostic on the science of global warming but says his views don’t matter. “I don’t know if the CO2 zealots are right,” he said. “But I don’t care, because we can’t afford to do what they want to do. Unless you want to go broke, in which case the world isn’t going to be any greener. Poor nations are never green.”
And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved. Daniels is pro-life himself, and he gets high marks from conservative religious groups in his state.
Lots of righties took that as a sign that social conservatism would be a conspicuously low priority for President Daniels. Now here’s Rand Paul last week:
[Q:] Right. But it seems what they’re saying is that the Republican Party should stay out of issues like gay marriage.
[A:] I think that the Republican Party, in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues. The Republican Party is not going to give up on having quite a few people who do believe in traditional marriage. But the Republican Party also has to find a place for young people and others who don’t want to be festooned by those issues.
Daniels wasn’t calling a truce for electoral reasons, and he wasn’t calling it on behalf of the GOP specifically. Both parties would have no choice but to place social issues on the policy backburner, he argued, because dealing with the national debt before it reached critical mass would consume political energies. (In a sane world, perhaps, but alas, not in this one.) Paul really is making an explicit electoral argument, though. If you want to win, you’d better make room for people who support gay marriage. That’s more radical than Daniels’s position because Daniels’s truce in theory would lift once the country had been set on a more sustainable fiscal course. Paul’s truce wouldn’t. In order to steer the party back towards social conservatism, you’d need to show him that doing so would grow the GOP faster than a more pluralistic approach to social policy would. Good luck convincing a libertarian of that.
True blue social cons like Huckabee and Santorum will have field day with this next year. Social conservatives like Rubio or Ted Cruz, whose political brand is broader-spectrum conservatism and who themselves take a federalist approach to gay marriage, will tread more lightly. Paul’s got some cover on it from the fact that he’s personally pro-life and supports traditional marriage, but then again so was Daniels and that didn’t help him much. I think it all depends on which issues, specifically, he thinks there’s room for disagreement on and how much room there is. Gay marriage isn’t abortion; marijuana legalization isn’t gun rights. As long as Paul holds the line on the party’s truest cultural litmus tests, he’ll probably get some slack on the rest. But that’s what I mean in asking how much room there is: What would it mean to “hold the line”? Would Paul be willing to choose a vice president who supports legalizing gay marriage and marijuana? What about one who’s pro-choice and supports an assault weapons ban? The problem with “truce” statements, especially in the context of making the tent bigger, is that it’s never clear how much bigger the pol in question would be willing to make it. We’ll find out next year.