Of all the people Republican candidates thanked in their acceptance speeches on the night of Nov. 3, one name was noticeably missing. It was the name of the person most responsible for their victory: Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who went to jail rather than violate her religious beliefs by issuing same-sex marriage licenses now required under our unconstitutional judicial oligarchy.
In fact, Kim Davis won the gubernatorial election. And don’t let anyone tell you different. Matt Bevin and the others simply rode her coattails into office.
This isn’t to say anything negative about the candidates themselves. By all accounts Bevin won the debates with Conway, and his ads in the last two weeks of the campaign were clearly effective. His decision to oppose the persecution of Davis was not only the right thing to do (and in consistent alignment with Bevin’s practice of being transparent about his Christian faith), but was good politics.
Under any other circumstances, Jack Conway’s devastating negative ad campaign would have been telling. But Kentucky voters were clearly more concerned to put someone in office who reflected their more conservative beliefs than anything else.
To borrow an expression from sociologist Peter Burger (who was speaking about the country as a whole), Kentucky is a commonwealth of Indians ruled by Swedes. In other words, while many of their leaders are secular liberals, the majority of Kentuckians are conservative.
Every once in a while political circumstances produce an impetus for these voters to turn out. This is what happened in the debate over same-sex marriage in 2004. And this is what happened on Nov. 3.
Putting your political opponents in jail is just not good politics.
There were certainly other issues in the race, most importantly Bevin’s repudiation of Obamacare and KY Connect, its Kentucky manifestation. But this latter issue is just as likely to have hurt Bevin as to have helped him (this may have been the one thing Democrats were right about).
Not every election is a values election, but this one was, as Bevin’s late campaign appeal testified: “Vote your values, not your party.” That slogan not only appealed to Kentucky’s many conservative Democrats to switch party loyalties at the polls: It was a signal to Republicans that, finally, there was a candidate who shared their beliefs about the visceral issues that, contrary to many political analysts, voters really do care about and were willing to do something about it.
The Democrats know this, which is why they wear their social beliefs on their sleeve. In the last presidential election, they wore their liberal beliefs about same-sex marriage on their sleeves. Republicans didn’t lose because they didn’t believe in these things: They lost because they never made their case for believing differently.
In places like Kentucky, socially liberal Democrats win not because more people necessarily agree with them, but because they are the only ones willing to make their case.
Republicans lose when they cede the moral high ground to Democrats by dissimulating on their core values issues. The Romney campaign was the quintessential national example of the misguided belief that voters will turn out for you if you limit your appeal to abstract economic reasoning. People sometimes vote their pocketbooks, but more often they vote their hearts. And when only one party seems to have one, that’s the one they vote for.
When Republican candidates abandon their socially conservative beliefs, they do it at their own peril.
And that is the lesson of Nov. 3’s Republican victory: Conservatives will support people who support them.
Martin Cothran is the senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.