One thing is clear from the debates with the GOP presidential candidates: When it comes to LGBT issues, you can’t be extreme enough. In an effort to convince the ever-dwindling base that they are pure on social issues, the majority of the candidates made clear their disdain for marriage equality and transgender rights.
Of course, what would you expect one of the debate questions was from a Facebook poster who asked “what has God been saying to [the candidates] out running for president?” and the media attention was on a reality TV star who has declared corporate bankruptcy four times.
Here’s a sample of the all-too-usual slams:
- “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military to kill people and break things.” Mike Huckabee on why transgender people should be banned from the military.
- “I don’t want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington.” Rand Paul, who would get government out of the marriage business altogether.
- “It is not [settled], any more than Dred Scott was settled law to Abraham Lincoln. … This is a rogue Supreme Court decision.” Rick Santorum on the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.
There were also the expected defense of religious liberty (aka, the right not to bake gay wedding cakes) from Paul, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal,
The one exception to the red-meat rhetoric was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who just squeaked by into the big-boys forum, elbowing out more reliably homophobic former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Fox moderator Megyn Kelly asked Kasich how he would explain his opposition to marriage equality if he had a lesbian daughter. Kasich gave a response out of both sides of his mouth that had the crowd applauding.
“Look, I’m an old-fashioned person here and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I’ve also said that the court has ruled … and I said we’ll accept it,” Kasich said. “And guess what? I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or I can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith.”
The cheering audience probably didn’t know (or care) that Kasich was a defendant in the case that made marriage equality possible. Under Kasich’s orders, the state refused to recognize Jim Obergefell on his husband’s death certificate. That’s the case that led to the Supreme Court ruling in June. It’s a testament to the state of the Republican party that the man who denied a dying man’s wish can say in a presidential debate that “we need to…treat everybody with respect” and actually be lauded for his compassion.
Of course, not that it much matters for Kasich, who is at one percent in GOP polls and zero percent with the rest of the world. He has a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby than the GOP presidential nomination.
But the real value of the debates is in determining the tenor of the Republican presidential campaign, no matter who the nominee is. And the debate made it perfectly clear that gay and transgender issues are going to be front and center throughout the campaign. It’s not just because Fox anchors tossed a few questions out at a debate. It’s because the candidates themselves see this is an opportunity to get votes.
The debates showed that what matters most to the candidates (and the base) is ideological purity. No position can be too extreme and no rhetoric out of bounds. If it was, Donald Trump wouldn’t be leading in the polls. That also means that attacking LGBT issues is a sure-fire winner, at least in the primaries.
As for the general election, the Republicans seem to be on track of repeating their rousing successes of 2008 and 2012.