Why Do Social Conservatives Have So Little Clout in Congress?

U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building

The Daily Beast has a gloating piece on the relative impotence of social conservatives in Congress — certainly true overall, although I would quibble with some of the details. (The reason Rep. Renee Ellmers isn’t facing a challenge is that the House did bring up and vote to pass the late-term abortion ban after Ellmers held it up — you don’t declare war on those who come around to your side.)

But overall, social conservatives have to recognize this hard truth:

“Social-issue groups across the board need to recognize that if there are no consequences to people disagreeing with you, you’re not going to get taken seriously,” Frank Cannon of the pro-life American Principles Project told Roll Call. “We spend virtually nothing in directly engaging in elections. And the absence on that is one of the big dramatic flaws … for the social conservative movement.”

The life movement is a partial exception to this rule. The Susan B. Anthony List spends money to help elect pro-life leaders and defeat anti-life Democrats every election cycle, and other groups do engage in direct “independent expenditures” as well.

But even today, as the Left’s pincers close in on gay marriage dissenters and our institutions, there is not a single organization that is dedicated to helping elect senators and congressmen who are pro-religious liberty.

Since the 1980s, social conservatives have relied solely on diffuse messaging strategies, including pastor organizing and 501(c)(3) public education campaigns. We are now paying the price in our relative impotence.

Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.