If Republicans hope to recapture the White House any time soon, if they want to avoid losing the popular vote in 2016 for the sixth time in seven elections, then perhaps they should purge bigotry from their party platform. That would be a start.
The platform says: “We reaffirm our support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman….The union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage and promote.”
That bigotry won’t play very well with the electoral mainstream; according to Gallup, a record-high 60 percent of Americans now support gay marriage. And that bigotry is certainly out of step with 21st century America, now that the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws, has made gay marriage the law of the land. If one’s goal is to win a presidential election, the wise political move would be to expel those words from the platform and welcome gays into the realm of family values.
But in the wake of Friday’s historic ruling, many of the ’16 hopefuls have preferred to stay in character – howling at the moon, ranting at the court, claiming to have God on speed-dial, whatever. Not a single candidate has joined the mainstream’s celebration of marriage equality. Their reactions have run the gamut from reluctant grudging acceptance to head-detonating daftness.
Granted, gay marriage won’t be the most important political issue in ’16 (especially since the high court basically settled the issue for all time). But if candidates in the crowded field spend the next six months railing at the ruling on the stump and in debates – as Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump (assuming he files the candidate paperwork) all seem poised to do – they’ll reinforce the GOP’s well-earned reputation for intolerance and alienate the American middle.
Heck, they’ll also alienate young Republicans; according to the polls, roughly six in 10 GOPers under age 30 support gay marriage. In fact, the Republican National Committee warned in a ’13 report: “We must change our tone – especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every (focus group) session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.” And the College Republican National Committee warned in a separate report that, for young voters, ongoing GOP hostility to gay marriage was a “deal-breaker.”
But Scott Walker, an alleged top-tier candidate, apparently didn’t get the memo. This weekend, channelling the party platform, he called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I’ll try to say this with as much understatement as possible: There is absolutely no chance whatsoever – zero, nada, zilch – that such an amendment will ever be codified in the Constitution. The four Beatles will be reunited before that happens. Taylor Swift will be CEO of Apple before that happens. The Confederate flag will fly over Obama’s White House before that happens.
Walker probably knows that three fourths of the states would need to ratify the bigotry he pines for, but hey, he’s just running his mouth, pandering to the religious conservatives who will vote heavily early next year in states like Iowa and South Carolina. And he’s competing for those voters with the niche right-wingers like Huckabee (“I will not acquiesce to an imperial court”), Jindal (traditional marriage is ordained by God “and no earthly court can alter that”), Santorum (the ruling is “potentially disrupting the foundation of the world”), and Cruz (who said the gay ruling has brought us “some of the darkest 24 hours in our history,” which makes me wonder whether he has heard of Pearl Harbor and 9/11).
And this highlights the GOP’s big problem: the party’s conservative base is woefully out of step with the country, but the base is crucial to winning the nomination. On the other hand, a nominee who succumbs to the base’s gravity pull on gay marriage could potentially alienate the mainstream electorate. Which is why the party’s sanest strategists think it’s imperative that the candidates shut their yaps, accept inclusion as the new norm, and simply move on.
As Steve Schmidt told Politico the other day, the old self-righteousness about opposite-sex marriage just doesn’t wash anymore: “In the state of Nevada, you can get married to a hooker who you met at the bar 30 minutes after seeing her, with a blood alcohol level of 3.2, (with the ceremony performed) by an Elvis at a drive-through. At the end of the day (opposing gay marriage) is an untenable position.”
And speaking of self-righteousness: When Donald Trump declared on CNN yesterday that he wants to defy the high court and fight for “traditional marriage,” his host shot back, “What’s traditional about being married three times?”
The smartest Republican candidates (we’re grading on a curve here) seem to understand that, at minimum, they need to tone down the rhetoric. That way, perhaps they can score a few points with conservatives without alienating the mainstream. Marco Rubio knocked the court ruling, but said, “We live in a republic and must abide by the law.” John Kasich, who’s poised to announce his candidacy, said through a spokesman that he’s personally a fan of traditional marriage, but “our nation’s highest court has spoken.” Lindsey Graham said that people of faith should not be forced to comply with the ruling, but he thinks the GOP should expunge the straight-marriage language from the platform.
And then we had Jeb Bush, who arguably tried hardest to walk the tightrope. On the one hand, he disagreed with the court and stressed his support for traditional marriage; on the other hand, he didn’t attack the court or fume about unelected judges. Then he offered this mush: “We should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”
But what happens if the faith-based owner of a commercial business, or a county clerk on the public payroll, discriminates against those who are “making lifetime commitments?” How is that different from the ’60s restaurant owners who refused to serve blacks, in defiance of the law of the land, because they insisted that their Christian faith compelled them to discriminate?
Jeb didn’t say. But, rest assured, “religious freedom” will be the last-ditch rallying cry for history’s roadkill.