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Collision course

"Collision course" Continued...

Issue: "Abortion: Delta force," Jan. 22, 2005

Mr. Paul believes the solution is to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over controversial social issues, then allow states to set their own limits on behavior. But conservatives say that's too little, too late. When it comes to gay marriage, for instance, "The constitutional problem created by almost a decade of activist lawsuits to destroy our marriage laws demands a constitutional fix," according to Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage.

Indeed, after enduring decades of federal policies and judicial activism that chipped away at traditional moral values, many social conservatives plainly view a second Bush term as their opportunity to strike back by implementing laws and regulations that will put liberals and secularists on the defensive for years to come. In the past few weeks, for instance, conservative groups have weighed in on a host of issues:

• The Family Research Council is pushing the Senate to increase regulation on broadcasters with tough new federal decency laws;

• Concerned Women for America has called on Congress to ban the abortion drug RU-486;

• The Christian Coalition is promoting a law requiring abortionists to offer anesthesia for fetuses more than 20 weeks old.

Though many evangelicals view such actions as long overdue, even the more socially conservative libertarians worry that pressing a kind of morality offensive will inflict long-term damage on the Republican coalition. Already disheartened by the president's backsliding on economic issues, libertarians could defect from the party altogether if they sense Big Government extending its reach from markets into morality.

"True conservatives and libertarians are going to go to other parties or stay at home," Mr. Paul predicts.

Despite Mr. Bush's bigger-than-expected margin last November, a mass exodus by disaffected libertarians would likely doom GOP hopes for holding the White House in 2008. Evangelicals may have strengthened their hold on the Southeast and made gains in the Midwest, but libertarians still seem to be the backbone of the Republican Party in much of the West, thanks to the region's frontier mentality and its tradition of rugged individualism.

Without winning back a single state east of the Mississippi, Democrats in 2008 could triumph by picking off two or three Western states that have trended increasingly Democratic of late. Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, for instance, have 29 electoral votes among them, and Mr. Kerry needed only 18 to change the outcome of the election.

Dispirited Democrats are already eyeing those Western states, and a handful of others, as the cure for their Electoral College woes. A Dec. 9 memo from the New Democrat Network put it like this:

"Bush's politics has been less transformative in the more libertarian Mountain West [than in the Southeast], where even under Bush we've seen Democrats score significant wins in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and hold strong along the West Coast. In 2004, Bush saw his winning margin decrease in 10 states that he also won in 2000-eight of them were the Western states Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming."

Of course, it's far from certain that the Democratic primary process could ever produce the kind of fiscally conservative nominee who would appeal to libertarian voters. But even without actually crossing party lines, those voters could make the difference in several Western states by simply staying home four years from now.

To keep libertarians involved in the Republican coalition, experts say it's important for social conservatives to sell the other wing of the party on the importance of moral issues, rather than merely running roughshod over their fears of Big Government.

Also, social conservatives can use their formidable grassroots network to push proposals dear to the hearts of economic conservatives, flexing its political muscle on behalf of Social Security privatization, for instance, in exchange for support from libertarians on the federalization of marriage laws.

"A major victory like Social Security would help economic conservatives say, 'Great, we got something out of this partnership, too'" notes Mr. Bandow, "especially if they perceived that social conservatives were helpful in the fight."

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