GOP Death Watch

GOP Leaders No Longer Care About Bashing Marriage Equality? Not!

Politico is the Bible of of political  journalists. So when the website reported that the GOP is steering clear of gay marriage, you just know it has to be true.

There’s the requisite notice of some Republicans working in favor of marriage equality, and the tea-leaf readings of the relative silence of the Romney campaign.

There’s that quote from  respected analyst Dan Schnur: “Most Republican Party leaders seem to have lost the stomach for this fight.”

There’s even the false equivalence, suggesting that Democrats and Republican diehards are equally motivated by the issue.

So why don’t we believe any of it?

It’s true that the GOP has kept a lower profile on marriage equality than might otherwise be expected at this point in the campaign, particularly when compared to the extent to which the party used gay rights as a wedge issue to drive right-wing evangelicals to the polls in 2004.

Yet Politico neglects to mention a few important factors in its counterintuitive analysis:

  • When the timing suits him, Romney has no problem going after marriage equality. Just look at his track record in the primaries: Remember how he boasted about keeping out-of-state gay couples from getting married in Massachusetts? Remember how he called for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality? Remember the speed with which he signed NOM’s anti-marriage equality pledge? Apparently Politico doesn’t.
  • In 2004, the GOP’s goal was to make the election about something other than the incumbent. This time, the goal is exactly the opposite: Any issue that distracts from Obama’s performance on the economy diminishes Romney’s strongest argument for election. It’s not in Romney’s interest to talk about anything other than the economy.
  • Romney’s campaign essentially forced out Ric Grenell, its openly gay advisor on national security issues, after the right wing suggested Grenell was suspect because he favored marriage equality. Romney quickly caved on that one, showing how willingly he does the right’s bidding, especially on gay equality.
  • The Romney campaign is clearly uncomfortable making the candidate’s religion a topic for discussion. Taking on marriage equality would be the perfect opportunity for Democrats to revisit the Mormon Church’s role as a backer of Prop 8.
  • Talking about marriage equality also is a chance to highlight yet another in the endless line of Romney flip-flops.

It would also be worth noting that Schnur, who has taken a fairly reasonable stand on marriage equality, has deep GOP roots himself. (He served as communications director for California GOP governor Pete Wilson, who enraged the gay community by vetoing a nondiscrimination bill.)

Schnur is quoted as saying that the party has lost its stomach for the marriage equality fight: “Some of that results [from] the number of large-scale donors who support same-sex marriage, some of it’s a result in an increasing number of party leaders who support same-sex marriage, and a lot of it is public opinion polling which shows a shift in the way voters feel about same-sex marriage.”

We would certainly like to see the extensive list of party leaders who support marriage equality at the national level, because we didn’t see any of them running to embrace Obama’s position when it “evolved.”

Moreover, the GOP base is getting older and older, as even Pat Buchanan admits, which may spell demographic doom in the long run. But, in the short run, politics dictates that candidates run further and further to the right. If anything, the party is more dependent than ever on a shrinking religious base. For a candidate like Romney who is desperate to shore up his conservative credentials, this isn’t the place to take a contrary stand.

Now, this isn’t to say that the party hasn’t been as fire-breathing as one might expect. But we’re only at the beginning of August. A lot can come up between now and November: If Romney continues to get little traction on economic issues, he may try a Hail Mary on social values.

And don’t forget the ballot measures in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. The GOP leaders didn’t put them there, but they will be happy to take advantage of them to generate turnout. (You think Democrats are as motivated to vote in favor of marriage equality as evangelicals are against it? Think again.)

Of course, we might be the only ones paying attention to how those campaigns play out, because the conventional wisdom story is apparently already written well in advance of results.

Photo: Gage Skidmore