Leadership candidates do the awkward social conservative dance

Remember at the high school dance when you wanted to ask the prettiest girl in school, Katie, to dance, but you knew you weren’t cool enough for that, so you asked Becky for a dance instead because she’s kinda weird, but whatever it’s better than nothing, right?

That’s the Conservative leadership race.  At least that’s how I see it, insofar as that the infamous ‘social conservatives’ are a kinda weird Becky-type girl who leadership candidates seem willing to dance with, even if they don’t really want to.

For the numbers to work, the Conservative Party of Canada needs to cast a fairly wide net across the political right.  While they want their members to be the sorta hip, fiscally conservative but forward thinking right voter (a Katie) the party also needs to keep the back door open to the hardline pro-life, anti-sex education, socially conservative voter (a Becky).

The social conservatives represent a small-ish, but, loud-ish segment of the Conservative base, which means they become extremely important everytime there is a leadership race because, depending on how the votes shake out, a small-ish-but-loud-ish group can end up being king maker.

Remember when the dairy board got Andrew Scheer elected leader of the Conservatives?  It could just as easily be the social conservatives who make the difference this go around.

The most awkward part of the leadership race cycle is watching candidates dip their toe into the social conservative waters, only to immediately abandon that whole schtick once they get to the main stage.  Patrick Brown did it.  Doug Ford did it.  And soon enough, Peter MacKay will do it too once he wins. 

Because as much as conservative politicians court the social conservative vote during the party races, once you get to the general election, those same votes can be taken for granted.  Conservative leaders (the smart ones anyway) have no qualms about turning their backs on the social conservatives who helped them during the leadership race, because there’s nowhere else for those voters to go.  As we’ve seen numerous times, socially conservative voters might get all grumpy when their party leader veers to a more centrist platform, but it never ticks them off enough to jump ship to the Liberals or NDP. 

There is an added wrinkle in the ongoing Conservative leadership race, and that’s Leslyn Lewis, who leans further right than frontrunners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole.  She’s earned endorsements from some of the more socially conservative political circles, including prominent anti-abortion MPP Sam Oosterhoff.  While Oosterhoff may be a rising star within the PC Party, his social conservatism creates a glass ceiling that prevents him from moving much past rural MPP backbencher.

Just as his socially conservative values will keep him from ever being leader of the Ontario PC Party, the same social conservative bent makes Lewis unelectable as Conservative leader.  The central components of the social conservative agenda simply don’t align with enough mainstream voters to matter during the big show.

Any leader worth their salt knows to dump their social conservative act once they hit the  spotlight.  Scheer forgot to do that, refused to walk in a pride parade, and we all saw how well that went for him.

Numbers don’t lie, and the social conservatives who so desperately want a bigger voice within the party just don’t number enough to matter.  By now, they really should see the social switcheroo coming from their conservative leaders, but they never seem to catch on.  Rather, it seems they’re content to at least be momentarily important enough for someone to care about them during the leadership race.

So it is, that social conservatives are doomed to always be a Becky bridesmaid, never the bride.

Photo Credit: CTV News

More from James Culic.    @JamesCulic

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