Last summer, Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels advised GOP leaders to “call a truce on the so-called social issues” until the country’s dire economic situation had been reversed. Economic and social conservatives were “just going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” Daniels said. Social conservative groups like the Family Research Council immediately attacked Daniels, but many Republicans responded favorably to his proposal. In the 2010 election, Republican candidates by and large stayed away from hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion (those who did not, such as Senate candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado, lost).
Now Daniels’ truce, to the extent that it ever existed, has fallen apart, with House Republicans threatening to force a government shutdown because of their dislike for family planning services at Planned Parenthood. The fact that cancer screenings and birth control pills have become a deal-breaker for Republicans in the budget fight illustrates the extent to which high-profile social conservatives like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Mike Pence (R-IN) represent the balance of power in the GOP caucus.
A battle is underway inside the Republican Party right now between the pragmatists and extremists. John Boehner wants to be in the former camp, but, for now, he’s siding with the latter. The extremists are winning.