Talk it up or shut it down?

    Republicans can’t seem to agree on how to handle the gay marriage issue. The party’s religious right wing wants to make it the centerpiece of the ’12 campaign, but the party’s establishment leaders want to bury it six feet under.In the five days since President Obama voiced his personal endorsement, the GOP has been awash in mixed messages. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to talk about it. John Boehner doesn’t want to talk about it. But the moralists who speak for “the base” are insistent on talking about it, and they can’t understand why the party bigwigs are so reluctant to frame the election as a major battle in the culture war – as a crucial test, in the words of Pat Buchanan, of “whether we still call the United States of America God’s country.”Rick Santrum (of course) said over the weekend, “This (issue) is a very potent weapon, if you will, for Governor Romney if he’s willing to step up and take advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of America….Governor Romney has to talk about his values,” he added. “That’s the most important thing.”Tony Perkins, who runs the evangelical Family Research Council, said yesterday, “I don’t think the way the Republicans on Capital Hill are addressing it is the way to do it, saying it’s a distraction. Defending the family, the cornerstone of civilization, is not a distraction. It should be a priority. And it should be a part of what Mitt Romney talks about.”Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate who runs a similar group, America Values, wrote today: “Republicans…too often run away from debates over issues related to marriage, life and religion. With President Obama’s acknowledgement last week that he supports same-sex marriage, Republicans have been handed a political gift that could keep on giving until Election Day, but only if they take advantage of it. Unfortunately, the Republican response has been muted….To ignore social issues when they arise is pure folly.”But a top Republican pollster, Jan R. van Lohuizen, is saying precisely the opposite, that it would be folly for the GOP to highlight its hostility to gay marriage. Van Lohuizen, who polled for the George W. Bush re-election campaign in 2004, authored a memo last Friday, and circulated it among his party brethren. Basically, he’s saying that it would be a bad idea for Republicans, particularly with their presidential nominee, to advertise the fact they are on the wrong side of history. From the memo:”Support for same-sex marriage has been growing and in the last few years support has grown at an accelerated rate with no sign of slowing down. A review of public polling shows that up to 2009, support for gay marriage increased at a rate of one percent a year. Starting in 2010 the change in the level of support accelerated to 5 percent a year. The most recent public polling shows supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents by a margin of roughly 10 percent (for instance: NBC/WSJ poll in February/March: support 49 percent, oppose 40 percent). The increase in support is taking place among all partisan groups. While more Democrats support gay marriage than Republicans, support levels among Republicans are increasing over time. The same is true of age: younger people support same sex marriage more often than older people, but the trends show that all age groups are rethinking their position….”As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace. This is not about a generational shift in attitudes, this is about people changing their thinking as they recognize their friends and family members who are gay or lesbian.” Given those realities, van Lohuizen advised that Republicans position themselves on the right side of history – by arguing that support for gays is actually a conservative position. He even crafted a talking point for GOP candidates: “As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.”It’s fairly safe to say that the Phillies will lead the National League in slugging average before the religious right would ever sign on to that memo.So what we see instead is a party that’s struggling to split the difference – as occurred yesterday, on Meet the Press, when national chairman Reince Priebus willingly engaged on the gay marriage issue while clearly wishing he could change the subject.He quickly got into a pickle. Last week, he said it would be wrong to make gay marriage the law of the land; in his words, “you can’t federalize that kind of mandate.” But host David Gregory pointed out yesterday that Romney supports a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage – a federal mandate. So isn’t it hypocritical for the party of state’s rights to support a federal ban that would override the states and enshrine anti-gay bigotry as the law of the land? Here’s Priebus’ response, and if you can track his explanation, you are far smarter than I:”Well, first of all, I agree with the governor. And maybe I – because I – perhaps it was inartful, but here is the point. At the time, we were debating President Obama’s incredible evolution of mind on this issue. As if the American people are sitting around as the hourglass is being turned and you can wait for President Obama to evolve over his opinions on this particular issue. My point is as we sit here today, under today’s law, we don’t have a marriage amendment. But under today’s law President Obama’s (statement) isn’t going to change anything….We don’t have an amendment. And states across America are making this decision.  And states across America agree with me.” Gregory asked again whether Priebus would like to see a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage nationwide.Priebus: “Of course….It is part of the platform….Sure I would.” And then a fascinating moment occurred. Priebus, perhaps realizing that a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is a red-meat fantasy that turns off independent swing voters, and that such an amendment makes the GOP look intolerant, and that it’s nuts to talk about a nationwide ban to a national audience, proceeded to engineer a gymnastic pivot worthy of the London summer Olympics. Let’s pick up the quote. Watch him run far, far away:”Sure I would. But here’s the point. We’re talking about this issue now for an entire eight minutes on an incredible show on Sunday morning across America while millions of people are out of work. Our debt is going in the wrong direction. This president hasn’t fulfilled his promises that will put our economy back on track. Those are the issues that people care about. When I go across this country people are filling their tanks half full of gas. They can’t afford their groceries…”Way to go, Reince. Sounds like he got the memo.——-I explored the muted GOP response, and other gay marriage ramifications, in my Sunday newspaper column.——-I did another Live Chat today, mostly about you know what.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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