The religious right offered a hesitant embrace of the Republican Party's new "Pledge to America," with several groups saying they are happy the GOP included mentions of social issues but now expect Republicans, if they win back the majority, to follow through on their promises.
"While I have some disappointment that the pledge to honor the 'values issues' such as traditional marriage were not more clearly defined within the document, this is a significant improvement over the '94 Contact with America which was silent on the moral issues," said the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins in a statement to The Huffington Post. "The pledge is not exceptional, but it is satisfactory, as it does lay a foundation to build upon, and it moves Congressional Republicans to a place of public acknowledgment that values issues are to be a part of the conservative way forward."
The Pledge focuses much more heavily on economic issues than social ones, and according to Jon Ward of The Daily Caller, has "little of substance for the value voters movement." The preamble states, "We pledge to advance policies that promote greater liberty, wider opportunity, a robust defense, and national economic prosperity. We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values." Beyond that, however, there is very little mentioned, except plans to "permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion and codify the Hyde Amendment" and "enact into law conscience protections for health care providers, including doctors, nurses, and hospitals."
Even this language was controversial with the GOP leadership, and there was reportedly "a spirited debate behind closed doors about the degree to which social issues should be included in the new agenda." Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who won the presidential straw poll at the recent Values Voter Summit, "led the campaign to ensure social issues would not be ignored" in the Pledge.
Gary Bauer, president of American Values, was more pleased with the Pledge and told The Huffington Post that his political action committee will be "aggressively supporting it." "I'm just getting ready to send out an e-mail to 250K activists outlining what's in the pledge," he said Thursday afternoon. "So we're happy. It's not a platform per se, it's a series of legislative initiatives that House Republicans are focusing on, and I'm pleased that even though this election is obviously about first and foremost, job creation, and the economic problems, unlike the Contract with America, this pledge did bring up life and traditional marriage and pledge to defund abortion." He added that most of the values issues are being fought in the courts, so Congress is not the branch that will have the most impact anyway.
The Susan B. Anthony List political action committee put out a statement saying, "We applaud House GOP leaders for making a priority of codifying the Hyde Amendment and passing consensus legislation like the government-wide ban on taxpayer funding of abortion established by the Smith-Lipinski 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.' Similarly, we encourage the leadership to make defunding Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers currently receiving taxpayer dollars an immediate priority."
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, however, was less impressed, stating that "the Republicans' tepid approach to social issues is disappointing. "... Anti-family policies, the anti-scientific insistence on embryonic stem cell research, and the reversal of the Mexico City policy must be addressed. While our unemployment crisis must be attacked first and foremost, these issues should still have a place in a 'Pledge to America.'"
There is increasingly a debate within the conservative movement about whether or not to push aside social issues in order to focus on the economy. Republican Party figures like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are arguing that they should be put aside for now, while many other members of the conservative movement are saying they must also have a central role.
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