Thune: GOP can't 'minimize' social issues in picking president

Republican primary voters can't "minimize" the importance of social issues in deciding their candidate for president, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday.

Thune is considering running for president and has said he'll make a decision by the end of this month. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has openly encouraged the South Dakota Republican to run, though it's believed Thune might be interested in pursuing a higher-ranking spot in the Senate GOP leadership instead.

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"I think there are issues that people feel deeply about, and they’re profound issues. … And I don’t think we can minimize those in the debate," Thune said Thursday in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's "Brody File."

"For any conservative or any Republican to get elected to office, you have to have the support, and hopefully the energetic support, of people who care passionately about the social issues," he added. "So they’re important. And we shouldn’t trivialize that."

The role of social issues in the 2012 campaign — and the debate over how much they should play a role — has been a source of sometimes sharp debate among potential GOP contenders.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) drew rebukes from several other would-be competitors for calling for a "truce" on social issues in Republican primaries. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), meanwhile, warned primary voters against ideological "purity," especially at a time when incumbent, establishment Republicans face an increased risk of primary challenges from their right. 

Thune has a religious background, having studied at Biola University (Bible Institute of Los Angeles), an evangelical Christian school, for college. He told CBN he doesn't apologize for his faith, and wouldn't "shrink away" from public service because of it.

It's not clear which candidates in the GOP field might make an outright appeal to social conservatives, and which might look to moderate their rhetoric. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) was particularly critical of Daniels's "truce," but he's regarded a second-tier candidate, and Thune could fill any void left in the field.

If he does get in — and the clock is ticking toward the end of February — Thune promised not to be short on the fire in the belly needed to sustain a campaign for the presidency.

"Believe me, if I decide to move forward, I will have the passion," he said. "So, if I focus on this, we will be all in. But the question that I have to come to grips with right now is, Can I get to that point where I’m all in? You have to be 100 percent there."