For the longest time, the Republican party relied upon the religious right to push it over the electoral finish line in presidential races. (See George W. Bush, 2004.) But the Supreme Court’s decision to let marriage equality sail along unchecked promises to unleash an epic battle within the GOP. If anything, the Court may have doomed the Republicans chances of winning back the White House in 2016.
Now it’s not like the GOP had a deep bench to begin with. It has no candidate of the stature of Hillary Clinton. Instead, it’s stuck with a bunch of retreads, like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, governors with no shortness of weaknesses, and senators whose ideas are either offensive or just plain crazy.
But now the party is on the brink of a civil war. And marriage equality is the GOP’s Fort Sumter.
One segment of the party knows that the GOP needs to get over itself and accept (if not embrace) marriage equality as a legal fact. This viewpoint is epitomized by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who told reporters, “For us, it’s over” and who suggested that there was no point in trying to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit marriage equality. This from a man who supported a legal challenge to the state’s domestic partnership law.
On the other side are the true believers, and they are making it abundantly clear that marriage equality is the hill they will die on and take the party with them if necessary. Ted Cruz is the loudest (and most obnoxious) among them, fueling the fires and his own presidential ambitions. “Unelected judges should not be imposing their policy preferences to subvert the considered judgments of democratically elected legislatures,” Cruz bellowed.
Cruz is not alone, though. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the down-home homophobe, is threatening to leave the Republican party altogether if it does not fight marriage equality with every fiber of its being.
“I am utterly exasperated with Republicans and the so-called leadership of the Republicans who have abdicated on this issue,” Huckleberry complained. “I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand. I’m tired of this.”
The issue promises to play out in campaigns. The National Organization for Marriage is targeting Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio because of his support for marriage equality. (Portman came around after his son came out.)
NOM has the electoral firepower of a cap pistol these days. But the bigger issue is that the GOP stands a good chance of losing a chunk of what little base it has in national elections. And the frankly homophobic arguments of defenders of traditional marriage will further alienate the younger voters it needs to get if it’s ever to win back the White House.
The GOP is in no shape to come out victorious in this fight. It’s lost two presidential elections in a row, and it needs for the stars to align perfectly if it’s to ever to win in 2016. This fight guarantees the stars will not align, particularly if the Supreme Court decides it needs to revisit marriage equality in time to make it an issue in the 2016 election.
The Cruz/Huckabee/NOM wing of the party prizes ideological purity over reality, and they will force an ugly debate on the party. Losing doesn’t bother them. If anything, they see electoral defeat as proof positive that the party isn’t conservative enough.
Ultimately, the pragmatists will have to win out. In the meantime, though, Republicans are in for a bloody war.
Photo credit: Americanvision.org.