Embarrassment of Choices: Too Many Options Could Split Conservative Votes

The failure of the U.K. Independence Party, and the success of the Scottish Nationalists, should prove a warning to religious conservatives in the 2016 primary.

By John Zmirak Published on May 9, 2015

Thursday’s British elections bring home to us the danger faced by majorities whose interests are threatened by focused, angry splinter groups which know how to focus their fire. For decades, ordinary English voters, especially the working and middle class, have seen their communities fragmented by mass immigration, especially from the Muslim world. Workers’ one-time champions in the Labour Party were drunk with multiculturalism, and unwilling to face the fanatics who now preach openly — in mosques from London to Aberdeen — their goal of imposing sharia law in a Muslim-dominated Britain.

Meanwhile the Tory party has abandoned natural marriage, and its elites still want their part in the soulless oligarchy that is the European Union. The squishy centrism of British Prime Minister David Cameron, by American standards, would place him on the political spectrum to the left of Bill Clinton. A hopeful populist conservative group, the U.K. Independence Party, rose up in constituencies all across the country, to offer working class and socially conservative voters a principled alternative. Likewise, on the left, the Scottish National Party ratcheted up its demands for local government in Scotland, and more bloated socialism through the whole of the United Kingdom.

As we know now, the squishy center won the election, though the Scots may have won the war. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron did surprisingly well, Labor was crippled, the Scottish Nationalists carried almost every seat in Scotland, and the real conservatives, the U.K.I.P., were almost thrown out of Parliament, gaining only a single seat.

These results don’t reflect the popular vote: In reality, the U.K.I.P came in third in votes that were cast, but because its strength was scattered all across the country, it won few representatives, while the Scottish Nationalists, who came in fourth, won most of the seats in Scotland. I’ll leave it to others to analyze how this election will affect the fate of Great Britain — which may well face another attempt by Scots to declare their independence. As narrow and single-issue in their own way as the gay lobby in America, the Scots Nationalists may well prevail in their goals despite the wishes of the majority.

Too Many Options in 2016

What’s important for us are the lessons conservative Christian voters can take away from this election for the 2016 race.

Most people concede that in 2012 there were too few appealing choices for conservatives. Mitt Romney had so much money, and such a machine ready to roll, that many plausible choices for the Republican nomination stayed out of the race. This year we face the opposite problem: There are too many plausible candidates in the race. It will be very hard for Christians concerned about their religious liberty, the fate of marriage and the sanctity of life to rally around a single solid champion — someone who doesn’t just vaguely agree with them on these subjects, but sees them for what they are: crucial issues that determine how much freedom we’ll have in America, and whether our nation will prosper, or crumble and falter.

None of the pro-business centrists in the race, such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, has a record of blatant flip-flops on social issues as Mitt Romney had. Jeb Bush stood up for Terri Schiavo, and is solidly pro-life. Marco Rubio’s credentials here are just as good. Scott Walker has earned suspicion from pro-lifers for hiring as his campaign manager a long-time pro-choice Republican, but his voting record is solid.

On the other hand, let’s not forget Indiana. Not one of these three has spoken out forthrightly in defense of marriage, or committed himself to correcting a bad Supreme Court decision through a constitutional amendment. Nor did any of the three come out fighting for Indiana’s religious freedom law when it mattered. Can we really count on them to reverse the Obama administration’s implied policy of targeting orthodox Christian churches and taxing them out of existence? If such a policy is firmly in place for some 18 months by the time one of them were elected, would Bush, Rubio or Walker take the political heat for restoring tax exemptions to churches that the media and the courts have labeled as “bigoted”? Can we trust their Supreme Court appointees?  Sadly, I can’t say for sure.

Meanwhile, for those of us who consider religious freedom, unborn life and natural marriage as the keystones of decency and ordered liberty, there are candidates who speak our language and share our priorities. Too many of them. How will they choose among Cruz, Huckabee, Carson, Santorum and others? Will some rally behind the pro-life Rand Paul’s cogent warnings against the growth of government and foreign wars? Will still more worthy defenders of our values step forward to fragment votes even further?

Have no doubt that the pro-business, socially agnostic and liberal elites who control the flow of money behind the scenes in the G.O.P. will quickly choose their own “winner,” and try to anoint him as quickly as possible. He will be the “electable conservative” in contrast to the “extremists” remaining in the race. There’s a reason that some call the Republicans the “Monarchist Party.”

I pray that we take the lesson of the U.K. Independence Party to heart. Scattershot support is no support at all. Being right and smart and honest aren’t always enough. Sometimes you must be strategic. I hope that the first primaries quickly reveal which committed conservative candidates are ready for prime time and have serious support — and that the others check their egos at the door and quickly rally behind the strongest true conservative. There is too much at stake for candidates to use the 2016 primary as a book tour or a chance to boost their careers as public speakers. It is time for the wisdom of serpents and the humility of those who would be saints.

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