Pro-Family Politicians Must Go on the Offense to Win

Governor Tom Wolf, D-Pa., speaks during a 2016 campaign rally for then-Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., at the Boys & Girls Club in Lancaster, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016.

By Maggie Gallagher Published on June 1, 2017

The Keystone Report recently published a poll. It was commissioned by the American Principles Project. (Full disclosure: I am an APP senior fellow).

It showed two things. First, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is in trouble. Second, there is a huge opportunity for social conservatives to go on offense against the Left’s transgender extremism.

Just 35% of Pennsylvania voters favor Wolf; 43% rate him unfavorably. On the second point, 71% said they were less likely to vote for Wolf — that is, once they learned about his transgender extremism.

That’s the good news. Here’s the great news: Once they hear of his transgender policies, 51% of Democrats say they are less likely to support Wolf.

This is a huge political opportunity for social conservatives.

Modern political technologies are amazing. They tell us which soft Democrats and independents are most likely to switch their vote when they learn of a candidates’ left wing extremism on social issues. Cutting edge programs then let us go directly to these persuadable soft Democrats at a reasonable cost.

The Democratic party pushes these deeply unpopular policies. Not because they’re popular. They aren’t. But because they can count on Republicans to avoid the issue. They can count on social conservatives to keep on bringing a knife to the gunfight.

The North Carolina Debacle

We saw this failure to seize the opportunities in the 2016 election. One great hero fought back against Obama’s outrageous bathroom transgender mandates. That hero was North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The Left used their control over free media to pummel McCrory.

The Left called in chits from the Chamber of Commerce to the NCAA. They framed the issue as acceptance vs. “hate.” Liberals didn’t just try to turn out their base. They invested millions in attacking McCrory. They trotted out a variety of issues. But the “bathroom bill” (HB2) was what goaded them.

The LGBT political community is smart. It beats our social conservative leaders almost every time. And not by attacking religious liberty or touting same sex marriage. Instead, gay activists pour money into whatever issue works best. See the now-classic Atlantic article “They Won’t Know What Hit Them.” The voters may not understand why they lost. But the political class understands all too well. And Republicans steer clear of anything of which the Human Rights Campaign disapproves.

The Democrat Base Isn’t the Electorate

I see the great North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest making the case that voting for HB2 is not what defeated Pat McCrory. He notes that 87 of 89 legislators who voted for HB2 were re-elected. The public is not obsessed with the same priorities as the liberal Democratic donor base.

As recently as a July 2015 AP poll, a third of Democrats and 59% of Independents said religious liberty should trump gay rights where they conflict.

All true. But the Left targeted McCrory because of HB2. The Left understands that not all elections are equal. They do not have to defeat everybody who voted for HB2. They merely have to show that they can cut down any social conservative leader who pokes his head out. Republican elected officials don’t want to be in former Pat McCrory’s shoes. Democrats see no problem in being in newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper’s shoes.

One CEO told Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, “We just don’t want the Human Rights Campaign coming against us.” Ditto Republican politicians.

The Left’s Issues Are Losers

None of this was inevitable. Social issues can be used to persuade soft Democrats and Independents to vote against social liberals.

For example: As recently as a July 2015 AP poll, a third of Democrats and 59% of Independents said religious liberty should trump gay rights where they conflict.

In 2016, the American Principles PAC spent $75,000. It tested whether soft Democrats and Independents in North Carolina could be persuaded to vote for Pat McCrory on the transgender issue. The test results suggested a spectacular missed opportunity.

APP PAC identified more than 483,000 persuadable soft Democrat voters. These voters moved plus 28 points toward McCrory when exposed to the message.

It would have taken about $2 million to message these voters thoroughly. Or just $1 million to reach them adequately. That’s a drop in the bucket. Social conservatives lavish much more on futile or outdated strategies.

If our test results held, we could have flipped 135,240 North Carolina soft Democrat votes. McCrory would have won a resounding victory. But if social conservative donors were able to flip just 10% of these persuadable Democratic, McCrory would still have won.

We Could Have Been a Contender

The return on investment in terms of policy and culture would have been immense. Both Republicans and Democrats would today have a very different set of political incentives. Policy changes would be easier to achieve. Democrats’ would start being wary of social issues. More Republicans would be willing to speak up. The public conversation would be less one-sided.

(A side issue: How to make at least one corporation pay for entering a social controversy unrelated to its core business interests. That would be enormously helpful.)

The 2018 Pennsylvania Opportunity

There was other potential good news. The APP Poll revealed: When likely voters asked if they “support individuals using the facility that corresponds with their sex at birth or the facility with which they individually identify,” 56% chose “birth sex” and just 31 percent “personal identification.”

Democrats want to avoid the LGBT bathroom issue because it is political poison. Will social conservative donors let them?

Only 7% of Pennsylvania voters support using puberty blocking drugs in children with gender identity issues. Some 59% opposed it.

Ducking Democracy

Democrats know these issues are losers with voters. So they want bureaucrats to impose their policies. They can’t pass a ban on LGBT discrimination democratically. So they want the state Human Rights Commission to declare that state bans on sex discrimination now cover gays too.

Pennsylvania Family Institutes’ Michael Geer has pointed out:

This proposal wouldn’t change the law — only the commission’s “guidance” on the matter. But this new “guidance” would mean the law would be enforced as if it had changed. This guidance comes on the heels of repeated failures to accomplish the same outcome through the legitimate way of changing laws — through the legislative process and with the consent of the governed.

The Democrats want to avoid the issue because it is political poison. Will social conservative donors let them? Investment in direct electoral politics pays huge dividends in terms of culture and policy — but only if we play the game to win. To date, we’ve barely been playing at all.

We Only Pretend to Fight

In 2014, pro-family social conservatives invested $251,633,730 in tax-deductible 501(c)3 efforts (excluding pro-life efforts). How much was spent on direct political engagement, counting both state and federal organizations? $2,484,359. That’s a 100-to-one ratio of doing politics by indirect versus direct means. Social conservatives can’t get much out of politics because we aren’t really in politics. We’re sort of dancing around the edges of it. That’s where we feel comfortable. And why we lose.

We’ve barely built the donor networks and political institutions to hold back the Left or to protect traditional believers. Instead we have relied over and over again on inferior, ineffective political strategies.

We’ve invested in:

  • 501c3s
  • public-interest law
  • academic conferences
  • video messaging (very important)
  • voting scorecards (not very effective)
  • get-out-the-vote efforts (marginally effective) and
  • pastor organizing.

The impact of pastor organizing is unknown and probably unproveable. But it is consuming huge amounts of our political money.

The Road Not Taken

What have social conservative and religious liberty donors not done? We have not invested in actual political institutions, like the highly effective pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

The pro-life movement proves the advantages of going on offense. State legislatures are passing reams of new pro-life legislation, while conscience protections stall. President Trump has proven far more willing to please the pro-life community than to deliver on religious liberty promises. Even the Democrats are beginning to argue they must de-emphasize abortion.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t rely on “turn out the base” strategies.

Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois is the only Illinois Democrat outside of Chicagoland. She won a close election in a district Trump won. And she is telling Democrats the key to victory: Say as little as possible about abortion and gun control: “When she does talk, she talks as much as she can about jobs and wages and the economy and as little as she can about guns and abortion and other socially divisive issues — which, for her, are ‘no-win conversations,’” she recently explained to Politico. This is an amazing turnabout from just five year ago. That’s when Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence and many other establishment conservatives were arguing that Republicans must mute the life issue to win nationally.

How We Can Win

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t rely on “turn out the base” strategies.

Don’t just threaten that our base will stay home. Don’t just whisper to hard core GOP conservatives. Hard core Republican voters tend to turn out. They tend to be messaged on multiple issues by multiple groups. That makes the effectiveness of any one social issue hard to demonstrate. Democrats are not afraid of our base.

Instead, persuade even 3% of Democrats to vote Republican in a close election. You know, the way Donald Trump did. Doing so would make social conservatives far more politically influential. And far more culturally influential as well.

Will social conservatives seize the initiative to build a more effective political strategy in Pennsylvania in 2018?

Having failed to seize the North Carolina opportunity, social conservatives start from a political hole of declining influence. But it doesn’t have to stay this way. We dug this hole, and we can climb out. 2018 is another opportunity for social conservatives to begin the hard work of organizing politically and directly. To stop eating crow and crumbs. To win for ourselves a real place at the table.

We have to begin somewhere. To do something new. We must abandon our pessimism and take our case to soft Democrats and independents.

To defend ourselves and America, social conservatives need a political offense.

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  • Gary

    The federal courts made murdering unborn children legal. It was not done by elected officials. The federal courts changed what a marriage is. It was not done by elected officials. If federal laws were passed that made abortion illegal and that restored the traditional definition of marriage, the courts would, almost certainly, declare those laws unconstitutional. The courts have been and continue to be the biggest enemy of morality in America. Not that legislatures are good, but it has been the courts who have given the anti-Christian pagans their biggest victories.

    • Cynthia Cantrell

      It was also a court that decided GW “won” a presidential election.

      • Micha_Elyi

        No court decided that, the voters did. You have been misled. But if you doubt that fact, ask your Democrat partisan friends to produce the court ruling that declared GW Bush the winner in 2000. Bring something to eat and a bedroll, because you’ll have a long wait. It doesn’t exist.

        • Cynthia Cantrell

          The Supreme Court ultimately declared the winner by virtue of stopping a recount: Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98

          From wiki:
          “Media organizations subsequently analyzed the ballots, and under the strategy that Al Gore had pursued at the beginning of the Florida recount, as filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties, then Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted by the consortium. The study also found that the actual statewide recount with disputed ballots containing overvotes (where a voter hole-punches multiple candidates but writes out the name of their intended candidate) would have resulted in Gore emerging as the victor by between 60 and 171 votes, if the Supreme Court had not stopped the recount. Florida subsequently changed to new voting machines to avoid punch cards which had allowed dimpled or hanging chads.”

          As an engineer, given the problems with Florida’s​ voting process, I would have to conclude that the method used to tally and record votes was insufficiently accurate for the job it was intended to do. It may have been “good enough” to measure voting differences that exceeded 3, 4, or 5 percent, but as we have seen, painfully inadequate below 1%. Had the Supreme Court NOT stopped the recount, it appears Florida would have declared Gore the winner by the skin of his teeth.

  • Timothy Horton

    Why do you call yourselves “Pro-Family” when you are actually pro-bigotry and pro-intolerance? Why not just call yourselves the “I Hate Gays and Will Do What I Can to Hurt Them” Association? That would be much more truthful.

    • Gary

      We don’t accept the way liberals define things.

    • maggie galalgher

      I prefer the term Social Conservative, but Stream writes the headlines.

    • Dave_1958

      the truly hateful ones in this conversation are those who advocate for children and teens to take harsh chemicals to stunt their natural growth and to ultimately cut up their bodies in order to appease an emotional problem. If you loved them you would want them healed not scarred.

    • Micha_Elyi

      We don’t accept the definitions you advocates of perversion wish to impose on us in your bigoted and intolerant ways, that’s why. We use truthful language, not pervert-culture code phrases, unlike you.

  • MofPennsy

    Let’s make this guy “One Term Tom II” the Sequel…

  • Tom Rath

    Wait, is NoM still a thing? I would’ve figured Brian Brown was a Walmart greeter by now.

    • maggie galalgher

      Not my thing I retired from it a half decade ago. but still a thing.

  • Karen

    Please note that you lost on all these issues long before the law changed. Sodomy laws stayed on the books until 2003, to use one example, but the gay culture flourished in spite of them. Wives started returning in droves to paid employment in the late 60’s even though there was almost no child care available and little public support for women to have careers. You’ve lost so badly on premarital sex it’s not even funny. Feel free to make these election issues, you might even manage to win a few in Alabama or West Virginia, but those officials won’t get anything done unless you really do manage to create a fascist state. Are you willing to do that just because you want to make sure no one has sex that Torquemada would disapprove of?

    • Gary

      I agree that morality is not popular. That is reflected in the laws, as well as in societal behavior. Most of the laws that supported sexual morality have been removed or changed. Some people think that is a good thing. But I don’t see how it can be.

      • Karen

        So you’re in favor of arresting people for having the wrong kind of sex?

        • Gary

          Who decides what the wrong kind of sex is? Don’t you believe morality is subjective?

          • Karen

            I think the only wrong kind is the kind without the explicit and competent consent of all the participants. Everyone has to be old enough, reasonably sober, and there can be no impediments to saying no.

            You guys are the ones who classify sex acts into good and bad.

          • Gary

            You just made up your own category of “good” sex. Why should anyone else agree with your standard?

            What would be an impediment to saying no?

          • Timothy Horton

            Being passed out because somebody slipped a date rape drug into your drink. Ask Bill Cosby about that one.

          • Karen

            You are in favor of sex without the consent of all the participants?

          • Gary

            No. I’m in favor of husbands consenting to have sex with their wives, and wives consenting to have sex with their husbands.

          • Karen

            1. What happens if the wife doesn’t consent when the husband wants it?

            2. What happens to all the people who have other kinds of sex? Jail?

          • Gary

            1. That is between them. None of my business.

            2. In some cases, jail would be appropriate. But everyone will answer to God eventually. Justice will be done.

          • Karen

            Describe what you think merits jail?

          • Gary

            Adultery, homosexuality.

          • Karen

            What about marital rape?

          • Gary

            Is that real?

          • Karen

            Do you think wives have the right to tell their husbands no?

          • Micha_Elyi

            Why do you imagine only wives have “the right to tell (their spouses) no”?

          • Karen

            Why don’t you answer my question first?

          • Karen

            An impediment would be an implicit threat of harm — to use one example, a friend of mine lingered after a party when we were in college at a guy’s apartment. He lived on the opposite side of town from her, and he refused to either call her a cab or drive her home. Her choices were ‘have sex under compulsion, be forcibly raped here at the apartment, or walk home at 2 a.m.’ Also things like ‘have sex with me or get a bad grade or lose your job.’

      • Karen

        And if ‘morality’ — which you restrict entirely to sex acts — is not popular, what makes you think you can win elections on that platform?

        • Gary

          Probably can’t, just on that. But it might be possible to win elections on freedom of conscience.

        • eddiestardust

          HRC lost that’s why:)

          • Karen

            3 million more people voted for her than for the Mango Menace. Just because we elect the President using a system designed by slaveowners to maximize their own advantage doesn’t mean your idiot-in-office or his policies are actually popular.

          • Gary

            I would like it if liberals lived in big cities because of me, but they probably do it for another reason.

          • Micha_Elyi

            You are confused on the history of the US Constitution. Wrong, too.

          • Karen

            I understand the Electoral College. I also know that it was designed to favor rural areas and slaveowners over cities.

  • Well, I guess transgender is the new Gay. Poor Maggie lost her battle against marriage equality for law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples … which today is supported by 2-out-of-3 Americans. So now she has transgender people in the crosshairs.

    If you are in a public restroom, who else would you like to see there? Someone who APPEARS to be the same gender as yourself, or someone who APPEARS to be of the opposite sex? Or does it matter? Will hair, clothing, and makeup be sufficient to determine someone’s DNA? Or will you demand to see their genitalia in order to be sure? I doubt if your wife would even NOTICE if one of trans women I know walked into a bathroom stall while she was freshening her lipstick.

    It is my understanding that transgender people have been using their preferred restrooms for as long as there have been transgender people. If you appear to be a woman, you use the women’s restroom, and if you appear to be a man, you use the men’s restroom. HB2 was a solution in search of a nonexistent problem.

    • Karen

      I always want to ask the Potty Police to explain exactly how they plan on enforcing this law? Do we have to carry our papers around to prove we have the right to pee in a public restroom? And what about the parents of opposite gender kids? I have two sons. When they were little, up to about age six, I took them with me into the ladies because there was no way in hell I was sending a little kid into a a public men’s room. Under the NC bill, I would have been unable to do that.

      • Micha_Elyi

        Now you’re being silly.

        • Karen

          Oh? So you’re going to have a law that isn’t enforced?

    • eddiestardust

      I don’t live in The Twilight Zone and neither does Maggie. I just don’t get it..we were all taught about what we were when we were very young. On what date did you decide, suddenly, that it was ok to re define everything?

      • Timothy Horton

        Laws discriminating against the LGBT minority were based on ignorance and misunderstandings about human sexuality. With today’s scientific knowledge we now understand there is no good reason for such harsh and unfair laws to exist. Intelligent people learn from the mistakes, correct them, and move on to a better tomorrow. Not so intelligent people demand to keep the ignorance-based old status quo.

        • Gary

          I was born a homophobe. Its an evolutionary variation in humans. Its very unfair to ask me not to be what I naturally am.

          • Timothy Horton

            You were born a moron and an A-hole too. Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to put up with your ignorance.

          • Gary

            I evolved a bit differently than you. But you have no objective reason to complain.

          • Pollos Hermanos

            I don’t think evolve means what you think it means.

          • Gary

            I know what it means. There is no mechanism in evolution that makes everything the same.

          • Pollos Hermanos

            It seems to have missed a spot with you.

          • Gary

            It missed giving me the homosexuality gene and instead gave me the homophobic gene.

          • Pollos Hermanos

            You’re confusing that with the Dunning Kruger gene.

            I would expect somebody in your condition to make that mistake.

          • Gary

            If evolution is true, there is no reason to consider anything, or anyone, superior to anything else. For instance, you are no more important than the rabbit currently feeding in my yard.

          • Pollos Hermanos

            Your need to feel superior to rodents is duly noted.

          • Dave_1958

            typical response from a brainwashed lib

          • Jim Walker

            hahahaa .. this cracks me up! Thanks, I needed it today.

        • Micha_Elyi

          The LGBQWERTY minority weren’t discriminated against, they could always marry just as everyone else could. Marry someone of the opposite sex. Marriage is between a man and a women. Even misandrist females have to do that or not marry. See? Equal!

          What the practitioners of perversions want are special rights to protect them in their perversions, to redefine words by fiat, to force normal people to pretend that perversion is Ok–even superior.

          “Intelligent people learn from the mistakes,” which demonstrates that practitioners of perversion plus their excuse-makers aren’t intelligent.

  • SophieA

    Using words to persuade. Now that’s a novel approach the Left have yet to learn and the Right would be wise to continue and return to. Let’s hope the Left keep threatening conservatives and those moral-leaning Democrats as it’s 99% certain they will. And let’s hope that the Right doesn’t sink to the violent tactics for which the Left has adopted as it’s defining characteristic. It is unfortunate and an ominous sign that some on the Right are given to unwise retaliation. Means to an desired end always matters. Take the high road and be encouraged by Maggie Gallagher’s analysis to winning. Thanks for the encouraging article.

    • maggie galalgher


    • climate3

      It’s a comical article. Gallagher lost the marriage fight and now she will lose this one.

  • Kuni Leml

    I am old enough to remember similar polls being touted by those who opposed mixed-race marriage, and then later gay marriage.

    How’d that work out?

  • Cynthia Cantrell

    Somehow, I get the feeling that if conservatives change where they send their money based on the suggestions in this article, Maggie is going to be getting a bigger paycheck.

    Bt maybe it’s just me being cynical.

  • Micha_Elyi

    51% of Democrats say they are less likely to support Wolf.

    What does that mean, that 51% of Democrats will walk more slowly to the polls?
    That 51% of Democrats will mark their ballots with a wrist more limp than usual?

    In my experience, “less likely to support” goes out the window on Election Day when the partisan has a choice between a fellow party member and someone of the other party.

  • MassManny

    Social conservatives shouldn’t give up fighting gay marriage. How about speaking the truth about homosexual behaviors and the associated public health crisis? Since gay sex is said to be normal and healthy, lesbians and heteros are increasingly imitating their unhealthy practices. And the STD epidemic now affects a huge percent of our population, esp young people.
    Maggie never spoke about the nature of homosexuality during the gay marriage fight. Why not? New book out that discusses all this: Health Hazards of Homosexuality.

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