But I suspect that Republicans drew another conclusion from their 2014 electoral successes. In many states, GOP candidates won even after supporting extremely divisive legislation. Controversial Republican governors such as Florida's Rick Scott, Kansas's Sam Brownback, Maine's Paul LePage, and,of course, Wisconsin's Scott Walker all won reelection. Republicans increased their majorities in state legislatures. These wins came after Republicans passed laws that not only busted unions and limited voting rights but significantly restricted abortion in state after state.
So even as Republican candidates learned to be circumspect in their language about social issues in particular -- no more "legitimate rape" talk -- they were developing a sense of what they could get away with while retaining the support of moderate voters.
I think that's why 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls aren't being cautious about Indiana's "religious freedom" law. They think 2014 means they can get away with this:
Key Republican presidential hopefuls are backing Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act...And:
"I think Governor Pence has done the right thing," Bush said [on Hugh Hewitt's radio show], according to the New York Times. "I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all...."
Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination last week, said in a statement that he favors the new law....
Earlier today, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum said in a tweet he supports Pence....
Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio also backed the law during an appearance on Fox News.This comes at the same time that Chris Christie -- widely regarded as a moderate -- has expressed support for the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion at the federal level after 20 weeks.
These guys are looking and 2014 and concluding that voters will still vote for you if you think like Todd Akin as long as you don't talk like Todd Akin -- or, perhaps, as long as you don't talk like Todd Akin in the few months leading up to a general election. They think they can be religious-right warriors now, when the only voters they have to worry about are GOP primary voters. They assume the vast majority of non-Republican voters aren't paying attention to what they're saying now or won't remember by November 2016, at which point they will have dialed down the rhetoric and spent several months saying only bland and anodyne things about social issues.
Will this work? Will they get away with it? We'll see. But they won't if we remember.