Still, the news that about 100 Republicans have signed onto an amicus brief calling for the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8 has gotten about so much play that you would think it actually meant something.
In fact, it means very little. Despite the MSM trumpeting the signees as “prominent,” they are by and large political has-beens, never-beens or behind-the-sceners who have virtually zero influence on the current Republican party. It’s hard to describe such luminaries as the mayor of Melrose, MA, and the former Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs as political supernovas without laughing out loud.
The list is comprised of four main groups. There are those who have skin in the game, so to speak, because they are lesbian or gay: Mary Cheney, former GOP chair Ken Mehlman, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, to name a few. There’s a collection of former elected officials or candidates, including a handful of names people might actually recognize if they like to play electoral nostalgia drinking games: former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, former Rep. Mary Bono Mack and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, for example. Then there are a slew of faceless loyalists who held appointed positions in GOP presidential administrations or served as political consultant to the presidential candidates.
Finally, there is a tiny band of actual elected officials. These include two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who deserve a nod for bravery for courting a primary challenge from the right wing of the party: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Richard Hanna. Both of them find themselves in somewhat more conservative districts due to redistricting and may find winning reelection in 2014 a challenge in any case. After Ros-Lehtinen and Hanna, the list of elected officials drops off precipitously to the likes of the aforementioned Mayor of Melrose (Patrick Guerriero, who is gay) and New Hampshire state Senator John Reagan.
Let’s not kid ourselves: these people have very little influence in the fever swamps that constitute the GOP today. As Charles Pierce at Esquire put it, “Christine Todd Whitman is an influential Republican? Since when? You might as well be talking about William Seward.”
For proof, look no further than the ballot box. Just lat year, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who signed the amicus brief, ran for the GOP presidential nomination and won about 42,000 votes total. That’s the equivalent of less than half the population of Broken Arrow, OK. Even The New York Times, which played up the “prominent” angle, had to admit that the presence of so many retired politicians “suggests that once Republicans are out of public life they feel freer to speak out against the party’s official platform.” No kidding. It also suggests that they are in less of a position to change it.
The majority of these signees are, for many party loyalists, that most awful of beasts, the RINO (Republican in Name Only), which must be hunted down until it is extinct. We don’t often look to Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage for brilliant political insight, but he hit the nail on the head this time: “None of these people are actively in politics. They are not running for office because they know … supporting same-sex marriage will end your career if you’re a Republican.”
For this list to really make a difference it would have to include some truly big names who are beloved within the party. Mary Cheney is nice, but Dick Cheney would actually mean something. While it’s great that some people who still call themselves Republicans are willing to side with equality, it’s impossible to believe that the Supremes will be all a-quiver because the director for data science for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has signed an amicus brief. It’s even harder to believe that the people who control the party these days remotely care.
Maybe one day they will, but that day is still a long ways off.