Tea party groups push GOP to quit culture wars, focus on deficit

In a letter to Republican leaders, tea party members advise the GOP to avoid culture-war social issues such as gay rights and abortion and to focus on reducing deficit and role of government.

Representatives of the loosely organized tea party movement urged GOP leaders in a letter released Monday to abandon their fronts in the culture wars – issues such as gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion – and instead focus their new electoral power on individual liberties and "economic freedoms."

The letter, signed by 16 tea party groups and a conservative gay organization, points to an emerging rift between the tea party movement and the GOP, which still counts social conservatives seeking "moral government" as a key constituency.

The signatories, ranging from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce to local tea party group leaders, say the key lesson the GOP should draw from the election is that Americans are concerned chiefly about taxes and the size of government, not their neighbors' lifestyle choices or personal decisions.

But the push to quit the culture wars is already meeting resistance from mainstream Republicans, who worry about a rebellion from social conservatives if the party refrains from taking stands on moral issues.

"If the Tea Party wants to remain true to its limited government principles, then it strikes me that the default position would be less government and more personal freedom, whether the issue being dealt with involves economics or so-called 'social issues,' " writes Doug Mataconis on the Outside the Beltway blog. "At some point this unnatural split in the GOP's view on freedom will have to be reconciled."

The letter, sent to presumptive House Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, tackles the rift between small-government conservatives and those who might see the Republicans' Election Day victory as a mandate to legislate morality on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

"This election was not a mandate for the Republican Party, nor was it a mandate to act on any social issue, nor should it be interpreted as a political blank check," the letter reads in part. "Already, there are Washington insiders and special interest groups that hope to co-opt the Tea Party's message and use it to push their own agenda – particularly as it relates to social issues."

The tea party letter implies that many activists believe the GOP has lost ground with certain voters who, though fiscal conservatives, disapprove of the way the party has in the past used "wedge" issues like abortion and gay marriage to garner votes.

"For almost two years now, the tea party has been laser-focused on the size of government," Christopher Barron, who heads GOProud, a gay coalition, tells Politico. "No one has been talking about social issues – not even the socially conservative candidates who won tea party support."

Yet social issues have cropped up among some tea party stalwarts. Sen. Jim DeMint, considered a tea party kingmaker for his support of candidates across the US, had before the election urged a ban on gay teachers. What stance to take on the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military remains a source of conflict within the movement. And a tea party-inspired GOP platform in Texas urged stronger sentencing for those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

"[C]aught between Scylla and Charybdis, the Republicans are now facing the big problem that they faced not long ago with defining who they are as a party," writes Bridgette LaVictoire on the Lez Get Real blog. "Do the remain small government or do they go for social issues? Can they continue to balance the issues in order to please both sides of their base?"

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