In the debate over the soul of the Republican Party, or the conservative movement, the libertarian sites on the web have started to weigh in with some consistency: throw the social conservatives overboard. They (we) scare people and they cost the Republicans more votes than they produce.
Before I tell you the many reasons that is short-sighted, let me tell you two reasons why that is a reasonable response.
In coalition politics, it is always reasonable to try and discern where you are gaining and losing votes. If the GOP runs the numbers and believes that most of us would vote with them anyway, even without "pandering" to us, and they can make up for the losses by picking up more fiscal conservative/social liberal votes, then they should at least consider that approach. Secondly, it is true that there is a group drawn from among the social conservatives that makes people nervous. While the extremity and number of those folks are exaggerated, they do exist, and they are not entirely reasonable people. Like any wing of any party, we have some all-or-nothing people who come out of the socons.
There is also a semi-valid reason for pinning the blame for election losses on us. No one has done well at keeping the fiscal conservatism promises - no, not even the libertarian-leaning elected officials - and while mutual recriminations may not be entirely fair or productive, they aren't entirely undeserved either.
But there is a good deal to be said on the other side.
I have said often that if the franchise were limited to married couples who had raised more than one child into school years, the Democratic Party would cease to exist as a force in American politics. It would elect few representatives in any district. They might get on by leaning heavily on the education funding issues, but that would be it. It would be a third party nationally. And it wouldn't be the libertarians that replaced them, at least not as currently constituted.
Marrying tends to nudge people into voting more conservatively (It may also be that more conservative people are more likely to marry, but for this argument that's tangential). Having a child nudges that a bit more, as does buying a house. But it's that second child that swells the ranks of the conservative parents. Four children - don't even ask. Even if a couple did not marry until a few years after a child was born, they start right in drifting conservative. If they divorce, both parents start drifting back to the center again, until they remarry, at which point they start their rightward march again. So it is not a product of being a rules-keeper or a rigid moralist.
I can't find where the reasons why have been studied, but let me hazard some guesses. When you raise more than one child, you see very clearly that a person's choices affect their life outcomes. Your choices, their choices, their friends' choices, their friends' parents choices - this laboratory churns out experimental data for you all the time. You get to know in your bones that life is not all luck. Luck still plays a part, and good choices do not guarantee good results, but your pendulum swings over to the life-is-what-you-make-it side. The unforgiving nature of reality is ever before you as well. One can drive stupidly (or drunk) and life can change in a moment. MVA injuries do not respond to protests that it's not fair, and he's so young, and can't he have a do-over. This reality gives you some resistance against liberal wishing and removing of consequences. Consequences can be a good thing. Buck up, little soldier.
I don't want to state that too harshly. I have already mentioned once that there aren't any guarantees even if you make good choices - you might fall victim to someone else's stupid or evil act - and parents keep that in mind as well. You pray, you teach, you admonish, and you keep trying to push the odds more in your favor. Parents tend to be firm but not fanatic.
Parents develop resistance to a second set of arguments from the left. The legacy we wish to leave is not the same as theirs. We're talking about real people, they are talking about society as a whole. No matter how many times environmentalists say "our children and grandchildren," it's pretty obvious that the activists are frequently childless - maybe one child. I think having wilderness areas, clean energy, and variety of wildlife is a good thing for my children and grandchildren. Yet I am more concerned about what values they have and what their character is. Not to put too fine a point on it, if they are not perpetuating a culture which clearly descends from my own, screw 'em. They don't have to even be very much like me individually - but if they are working toward values opposite to mine, why should I care about them? Mere survival of my genetic material does not interest me.
Similarly, parents know that animals are not people and find much of PETA's rhetoric offensive on that score. Treating animals kindly - sure. That's one of the values I was referring to above. But they're animals. People with actual children get the distinction. We note with some asperity that neither PETA nor the protectors of endangered species' habitat are noticeable among the life advocates and either end of the lifespan.
Having children also affects your own ideas of honor, of humility, of endurance. It can improve you if you let it.
This group I just spent seven paragraphs describing has considerable overlap with the socons. It votes 70% Republican - even African-Americans in this category vote almost 40% Republican, though I imagine that dropped considerably in the last election. Even Massachusetts Irish Catholics in this category vote over 50% GOP. Libertarians may have the idea that by dropping social issues from the Republican brand they are only ridding themselves of a few young-earth creationists and pro-life demonstrators. They might be correct in that. We socons might hold at 70-30 no matter what. Loyalty is also a virtue we admire, after all. It would be a helluva thing to guess wrong about that, though, wouldn't it?
Libertarians and others who want to focus intensely on fiscal conservatism, jettisoning other parts of the brand appeal might also ask themselves what they expect their own legacy to be. And who will bear it forward.