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Republican tickets elude the far right

The Republican Party’s steadily rightward drift, exemplified by the tea party movement’s muscle, keeps hitting a quadrennial paradox that frustrates social conservatives: presidential primaries.

world Updated: Jan 18, 2012 00:04 IST

The Republican Party’s steadily rightward drift, exemplified by the tea party movement’s muscle, keeps hitting a quadrennial paradox that frustrates social conservatives: presidential primaries.

For all its success in congressional races, the Republican Party’s right wing repeatedly has failed to unite behind a “movement conservative” to be the party’s White House nominee. It happened in 2008 with John McCain, and in 1996 with Bob Dole.

Now social conservatives fear it’s happening again in, of all places, South Carolina, virtually the heartland of the tea party. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is running strong in polls there.

More than 100 evangelical and social conservative leaders convened last weekend in Texas, hoping to slow Romney’s march by backing Rick Santorum. But they were far from unanimous, and many party activists feel the effort was too puny, too late.

There are several explanations, perhaps none of which will satisfy people who want an unabashed, staunch social and fiscal conservative as Pesident.

The most benign explanation is that Republicans are so intent on ousting President Barack Obama that they will settle for a far-from-pure conservative nominee and rally around him this fall. Indeed, Republican polls show Romney’s perceived “electability” as one his greatest assets.

Tony Perkins, who attended the Texas gathering as head of the conservative Family Research Council, says social conservatism is “choking on its own success” by attracting so many presidential hopefuls.

“The field is so inviting for socially conservative candidates to get in,” Perkins said, “they slice up the vote.”

But Dan Schnur, a former campaign and policy adviser for Republicans, says conservative activists keep getting outmaneuvered by the party’s more pragmatic and mainstream operatives who know how to run campaigns.