SWAYZE: Conservatism has become mainstream

May 19, 2012

Sue SwayzeRichard Mourdock took Sen. Lugar’s coveted 36-year seat by a margin of 61-39. How did it happen? It was much more than a Tea Party victory, which the pundits apparently lament.

It is indicative of a much larger trend across our country: Voters want to turn back to this country’s founding principles of fiscal constraint and family values.

In Indiana, the name Lugar was, and still is, synonymous with statesman. A Bayh or Lugar has represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate since Birch Bayh won election in 1966. That’s a long time, and surely our cultural shifts and progressive ideas have changed a lot during their tenure, moving them in a more moderate direction.

And then came November 2010. Just two years after President Obama swept into the White House, voters gave the U.S. House back to the Republicans. Voters changed the balance of power in the Indiana House and gave the Indiana Senate a super majority—not with more moderate Republicans but with more Conservatives—with a capital C.

It looks like 2010 wasn’t a flash in the pan or simply a Tea Party blip. Maybe we’ve seen the signs coming for a few years. State Sen. Brent Waltz upset another political namesake, Sen. Larry Borst, in 2004, and Sen. Greg Walker beat Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Garton in 2006. Shortly thereafter came the herd of conservatives in 2010 and now this—Mourdock’s defeat of Lugar.

Subsequent dialogue by media and even within the ranks has tried to explain away this trend or even call it extreme.

However, if you look around the country, you’ll see a broader landscape of foundational change rather than fringe elements getting lucky here and there. And it’s not just candidates. It’s also with issues.

For example, North Carolina recently became the 31st state where voters approved a measure to change their state constitution to declare marriage between one man and one woman. That’s a majority of states acting to pre-empt activist judges, which Indiana will do in 2014.

But also note: That’s a vast majority of Americans who have already voted yes to traditional marriage, including in California, where African-American votes put it over the top. Obama is finally acknowledging his support for homosexual marriage, but he would be wise to see that he’s going against the grain—Americans have spoken on this issue.

The life issue is also taking center stage with voters. Eight legislatures and governors, hired by their local voters, have moved to keep taxpayer dollars away from entities that perform abortion, like Planned Parenthood. That number will grow, as will the U.S. House’s efforts to do the same.

In fact, the pro-life issue played more prominently in the Indiana primary this month than you’re seeing in the news. The Howey Political Report/DePauw poll on the Lugar/Mourdock race showed that the most meaningful candidate endorsement reported by responders was that of Indiana Right to Life (51 percent). That was even more influential than Gov. Daniels (49 percent), the NRA (46 percent), the Tea Party (37 percent) and more.

Again, this shows that social conservatives rallied for the Mourdock success and rejected Lugar’s pro-choice votes. Pundits are missing this important element when they simply chalk up Mourdock as a Tea Party token victory.

Conservative voters have almost always lamented that they are more conservative than their party’s leadership and its candidates. Clearly, now, issues besides jobs, taxes and fiscal austerity are no longer tools for either party to use to appease conservative voters—they are wielding them themselves.

Conservatives are making a strong statement in areas where the pundits fear to tread. They are real people casting real votes for real conservatives on family values of life, marriage and religious freedom, to name a few.

Watch these and other issues begin to take center stage in politics as they do in the majority of Americans’ lives.•

• Swayze leads the Indiana Family Institute’s Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Series and has held numerous lobbying positions with not-for-profit organizations. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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