Tom Ridge, the former head of Homeland Security and one-time governor of Pennsylvania, is the archtypical establishment Republican. So it counts for something that Ridge is making a point of talking about why the GOP need to stop coming off, in his own words, as “too damn self-righteous,” particularly on marriage equality, “and I’m sorry, that’s just not the 21st century political party GOP that I think we need to govern America.” Ridge made those comments to Buzzfeed just prior to addressing Log Cabin Republicans on Wednesday.
Ridge was one of the more (actually, one of the few) recognizable names from the mostly out-of-office Republicans who signed onto a brief calling for the Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8. He’s an anomaly in another sense: he’s also pro-choice on abortion.
Ridge harkens back to the golden era (for Republicans) of Reagan. “Reagan was as pro-life as you can be, but it was certainly not the centerpiece of his — for him, it wasn’t why he became president of the United States,” Ridge notes. The lesson for Republicans: “You may not agree with me on some of these social issues, but I want you to respect them and don’t make them the centerpiece of your political agenda. They shouldn’t be there, in my judgment.”
Putting aside whether the Reagan years were as rhetorically soft as Ridge recalls, he has to recognize that the GOP is even more in the thrall of the right than it was 30 years ago. After all, his ex-boss, George W. Bush, won re-election in 2004 in no small part because of his ability to capitalize on opposition to marriage equality. (And Ridge himself signed a DOMA-like state bill while governor.)
The real question is whether an establishment Republican like Ridge can offer the party any advice that it’s willing to take. At present, the GOP has a faction that is dedicated to ideological purity. That is not the kind of group that will buy the “big tent” philosophy that Ridge represents. It’s fine that Ridge is talking to the gay choir. It’s fine the establishment Republicans are having these discussions behind the scenes. But until those views become the topic of discussion at CPAC or the Value Voters Summit, the GOP is going to stuck in the same antigay loop.
Photo credit: Department of Homeland Security