Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Easiest Question of the Day

Paul Waldman asks:
What Are the 2012 GOP Presidential Contenders Going to Say About Marriage Equality?
Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!

They're going to say that gay marriage is a threat to normal marriage, that it's a threat to the Republic, that it's a threat to all that's good and decent and holy and American.

Waldman points out that "If you're going to say, 'No legal recognition,' you'll be siding with a bare majority of Republicans - 52 percent, compared to the 46 percent favoring either marriage (11 percent) or civil unions (35 percent)."

Yes, but. Primary electorates are invariably smaller and more ideologically extreme (for both parties) than are parties as a whole. Moreover, nominations are won by winning support of party elites -- activists, campaign professionals, party-aligned interest groups, party politicians. Opinions tend to flow down from those most active to the somewhat larger primary electorates. And as far as I can see, there are no changes either within the groups and leaders that make up the GOP, or in the opinions of those groups and leaders. So within the Republican nomination fight, opposition to same-sex marriage is still going to be a must-adopt position.

One could see that, by the way, in Tim Pawlenty's decision to endorse re-instating DADT.  DADT was far less popular than the GOP's position on marriage among the overall population, but clearly Pawlenty believes that DADT is still not only the popular position within the GOP primary electorate and for important GOP players, but one worth making a fuss about.

This suggests that if same-sex marriage does become an issue within the Republican nomination process, the most likely result is that candidates will try to differentiate themselves as the most anti-marriage. I'll be totally, absolutely shocked if a viable Republican candidate attempts to find moderate ground on this one.

As far as the general election...moderation isn't going to win the votes of the relatively small group of Americans who are very strongly in favor of same-sex marriage; they're going to vote for Democrats. However, the changing polling on this issue probably means that Republicans will not try to emphasize their position, now clearly a minority view, in the fall campaign -- certainly not to general audiences, although it may continue to be part of GOTV and other mobilization directed primarily to Republican activists.


  1. so the eventual GOP nominee will be losing 46% of Rs to Obama's position, an issue where Obama probably gets the highest amount of Rs to agree with him than on any other I can think of...

  2. Well, except that if you're already pro-gay marriage and Republican, then obviously the issue doesn't mean very much to you. They'll have plenty of other reasons to vote R.

  3. A much more interesting question is what will President Obama say in 2012 about marriage equality. Will his stance on gay marriage move leftward from 2008? And if so, how will he explain the evolution of his position on the campaign?

    If Obama still vaguely opposes gay marriage like he did in '08 (or just ducks the issue), then of course Republicans will have no trouble also opposing it as well, and the issue will be pretty much moot for the campaign. If Obama comes out in support of gay marriage, the Republicans will try to make it a wedge issue. To be honest, I think some form of a "State's Rights" answer, similar to what Waldman talked about, is more likely to come from Obama than from a Republican.

  4. I agree with Colby. On Thomas's point...I think at this point Obama probably stays put through 2012. He's done enough (DADT, etc.) that he's not going to lose votes from advocates, and being consistent is safer than flipping as a general rule. I wouldn't rule out a late-2nd term flip, though. Especially since I assume all the 2016 candidates will have to be pro-marriage.

  5. I agree that Obama probably stays put through 2012, but I think his flip is gonna come, and maybe soon after that election. He's set himself up for it (look at every time he's asked about it).

  6. Jon,
    Don't put everything on electoral expediency. Another reason we will hear hate from the GOP field is, quite frankly, they hate.

    They didn't choose to be Republicans randomly.

  7. It seems Gary Johnson has already expressed support for civil unions, but he called them 'gay unions'.

  8. Amusing clip of Palin threading the civil unions needle.

  9. Gay marriage is likely to come up (at least in passing) in the 2012 GOP Primary debates. They will all mouth the usual platitudes as Jonathan suggests. I'l be interested to see if they all take Pawlenty's pledge to reinstate DADT, since this a loser proposition with voters.

    I'm also interested to see if the Dems running in 2016 endorse marriage equality. Sadly, my guess is some will (Andrew Cuomo?) but most still won't.

  10. It's funny to watch Pawlenty follow Mitt Romney's lead by taking uber-conservative positions to distract from his moderate record.

    Huntsman supports civil unions. As mentioned, Gary Johnson also holds to the libertarian position. Unless a lot of independents show up at the GOP primary, it's hard to see how being moderate-libertarian on issues like this will help them.

  11. Nothing serves the anti-gay bigots in the GOP better than the constant framing of the argument as pro- or anti- same-sex-marriage. It lets people who utterly oppose any recognition to garner support from folks who would gladly give us civil unions.


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