The Ticket

Republican leaders say social conservatives should not feel threatened

Chris Moody
The Ticket

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Republican National Committee Co-chair Sharon Day speaks during the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay …

LOS ANGELES—Social conservatives who were outraged over a March report from the Republican National Committee calling for the party to be more inclusive to gay and lesbian voters have no reason to be alarmed, GOP leaders say.

"I don't think their goals have been any lessened," RNC Co-chair Sharon Day told Yahoo News in an interview at the party's quarterly meeting here Thursday. "I think what they bring to the table is still very important. Their success and our success—all entities that share our values, that share our passions, that share the things that we stand on—if every single one of us is strong, we're all strong."

Last month the RNC released its wide-ranging "Growth and Opportunity" report, an autopsy of the party's role in the 2012 election that listed more than 200 recommendations for how to rebuild after Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama. Noticeably scant in the document was a description of the long-term role of social conservatives, a vital Republican voting bloc. The report also called for Republicans to "demonstrate that we care" about gay Americans, which sparked fear among groups that oppose same-sex marriage that the party might drop its commitment to keeping civil marriage between one man and one woman. Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, quickly accused Republicans of "throwing the party's social conservatives overboard" and has since urged social conservatives to stop donating to the Republican Party.

Before the beginning of this week's RNC's meeting, Perkins and a dozen other social conservatives sent a stern letter to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, warning him that they were considering calling on their supporters to end support for the GOP. "We respectfully warn GOP Leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support," the letter, first reported by NBC News, read. Their fears were likely buoyed by recent polls that show a growing number of Americans support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples and the surprising announcements this year from two GOP senators, Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois, who recently became the first Republicans in the chamber to declare support for such unions.

In an effort to quell lingering concerns and to clear up confusion that may have resulted from the Growth and Opportunity report, a group of party members at the RNC meeting submitted a resolution that reaffirmed the party platform, which calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on a national level. The measure passed unanimously through the party's Resolution Committee on Wednesday and will be up for a vote among the 168 RNC members on Friday.

The day after the Resolution Committee vote, Day reiterated that social conservatives should not worry about being left out of the future of the party. Republicans are not abandoning their principles, Day insisted, they are merely communicating their values in a different way.

"We stand on our conservative issues that bind us together and that our party is built on. If they're uncomfortable with it, they need to come to the table," Day told Yahoo News. "Instead of writing letters, let's talk about it. We've said all along—[Priebus] has, I have—that there's nothing wrong with our message. We have a good, strong, positive message. But we need more messengers and we need more people talking about those issues in every community."

The jury's still out on whether groups like Perkins' will be convinced by the party's efforts.

Henry Barbour, one of the authors of the Growth and Opportunity report and an RNC committeeman from Mississippi, also pushed back on the notion that the GOP was going to abandon social conservatives.

"The signal is very simple: We want to be inclusive. We are advocating a big tent approach because we think that's the best way to grow the party," Barbour told Yahoo News. "We want to grow the party by addition and multiplication, not division and subtraction."

He added: "We don't want to have a litmus test. Somebody who disagrees with me on my pro-traditional marriage stance can still be just as good as a Republican as I am. It's just that simple."

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