Remember, a few weeks ago, when national Republican headquarters autopsied the party’s woes and said in a report that the GOP, for the sake of its own survival, should shelve its extremism and reach out to the next generation of voters?
The report warned: “There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays – and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be. If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”
Is the party heeding its own words? Let’s check in with the Republican National Committee, which held its spring confab in Hollywood last week (yes, Hollywood). Behold this resolution, which sailed through on Friday:
Whereas, the institution of marriage is the solid foundation upon which our society is built and in which children thrive; it is based on the relationship that only a man and a woman can form….Resolved, the Republican National Committee affirms its support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and as the optimum environment in which to raise healthy children for the future of America; and be it further Resolved, the Republican National Committee implores the U. S. Supreme Court to uphold the sanctity of marriage in its rulings on California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Granted, the RNC autopsy report didn’t say that the party should support gay marriage and thus join the 21st century. But it did say (somewhat contradictorily) that the party needs to do a better job of reaching out, lest it be tuned out. That advice was ignored on Friday. The anti-gay resolution – which was sponsored by RNC member Dave Agema, the same guy who railed on Facebook the other day about gays’ “filthy lifestyle” – was speedily passed without any debate, without any chance for younger RNC members to voice any dissent.
Yes, this is a party that just can’t seem to stop digging. The resolution is an eloquent refutation of majority American sentiment – especially among the voters whom the GOP most needs to attract. According to the latest bipartisan NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey (co-conducted by a Democratic pollster and a Republican pollster), women now support gay marriage by 56-40 percent; among younger women under age 40, the spread is 69-29. Among young Latinos, it’s 60-33. Among college-educated whites, it’s 60-36.
Yet on Friday the GOP ratified its status quo – a veritable blueprint for losing more national elections – without permitting any debate. And we all know why. Because when the religious right jerks the leash, the party dutifully yelps.
Last Monday, 13 Christian conservative groups sent a letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus. They were very upset with the autopsy report – especially the passages devoted to the marriage issue and the treatment of gays. They viewed those passages with “great displeasure,” warned that the GOP was making “a huge historical mistake,” that it was “marginalizing social conservatives.” They also said that young people should be properly educated about gay people, rather than appeased: “Republicans would do well to persuade young voters why marriage between a man and a woman is so important, rather than abandon thousands of years of wisdom to please them.”
Most importantly, the letter concluded with a threat: “We respectfully warn GOP leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support.”
Translated into plain English, the religious right was threatening to leave the party. (Which jibes with what Mike Huckabee said three weeks ago, that if the party moves toward the mainstream on gay issues, people like him will “take a walk.”) And in an email last week to his Christian conservative members, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council declared in very plain English: “Until the RNC and the other national Republican organizations grow a backbone and start defending core principles, don’t send them a dime of your hard-earned money.”
So there’s the party’s ongoing dilemma: When it tries to take a more tolerant tone, Christian conservatives go ballistic and claim that the party is “marginalizing” them. But when the party caves to the Christian conservatives, it swims ever further from the American mainstream. As Liz Mair and Marco Nunez – young conservatives and ex-RNC staffers – warned Friday on the National Review website, the anti-gay resolution is a “significant setback,” and risks “further marginalization of the Republican party.”
So the party remains stuck, rooted in the past. Last week, in Hollywood, its leaders met only a few blocks from the Wax Museum. How apt.
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