Romney, Other Top Republicans, Mostly Silent On Same-Sex Marriage
Politico’s Maggie Habermann and Emily Schultheis note today that the GOP in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, are largely avoiding getting down into the weeds of the debate over same-sex marriage:
When Democrats announced that their 2012 platform would include a historic first — gay marriage written in as a plank — the reaction from mainstream Republicans was near silence.
There were no statements blasted out from Mitt Romney’s campaign. The same was true for the Republican National Committee. Romney has yet to address the fact.
The pushback came largely from social conservatives and evangelicals, who pledged to make same-sex unions an issue going forward and insisted the stand will hurt Democrats.
But the comparative quiet from party leaders would have been unimaginable even four years ago, when public opinion hadn’t yet shifted so rapidly on a signature social issue. And it marks a dramatic change among some of the top Republican donors and opinion-makers, who are supporting same-sex marriage in state-based gay legislative and legal fights, even as the official GOP platform will remain centered on traditional marriage.
“Most Republican Party leaders seem to have lost the stomach for this fight,” said Dan Schnur of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “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,” he added.
It is, Schnur said, “still an issue that motivates the party base, but it motivates the Democratic base, too.”
More importantly, though, it’s an issue that is no longer the winner that it might have been for the GOP in the past. As I noted in a post last week, opposition to same-sex marriage has been steadily declining since the 1990s and we are now at the point where it is essentially a 50/50 issue with the trends clearly indicating increasing public acceptance of the idea. Additionally, a recent Pew Research poll shows that Republicans are the only political group among who there is still majority opposition to same-sex marriage and, most importantly, that a majority of independent voters now support the idea:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, finds that the partisan divide over gay marriage continues to widen. Just 24% of Republicans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, which is only slightly higher than the percentage of Republicans who supported gay marriage in 2008 (19%).
Independent support for gay marriage has grown substantially since 2008. More independents today favor (51%) than oppose (40%) gay marriage; four years ago independents were divided evenly (44% favor, 45% oppose).
While the Republican base continues to oppose same-sex marriage by a wide margin, then, a majority of independents now support it and the Republican Party risks turning off those voters by taking vocal and strident stands on the issue as they did in 2004. That, I think, is the main reason you’re seeing Romney and other major Republicans stay out of the same-sex marriage debate beyond providing lip service to “traditional marriage” and other such concepts.
The most recent example of this that you can see quite plainly came last week during the entire Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle. While social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum got behind the whole idea of “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” you didn’t see anyone affiliated with the Romney campaign or GOP leadership getting involved in the campaign. Indeed, Bill Kristol wrote a column last week saying Romney should weigh in on the Chick-fil-A controversy:
It should be easy for Romney to stop at a Chick-fil-A for a photo-op (and a sandwich!) on his way there. He could also place a large take-out order from one of the stores for folks at his campaign event. And while he’s at it, he might follow the example of a caller from Wisconsin toLaura Ingraham’s radio show yesterday, and use his credit card to pay ahead of time for the next several members of the military who show up for a meal.
Mitt munching on a Chick-fil-A sandwich … the right thing to do, and politically smart, too. And tasty.
Is it too much to hope for?
Instead, Romney specifically distanced himself from the whole thing:
At a news conference in Las Vegas, Romney wouldn’t weigh in on either the fight over comments by the president of the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A over gay marriage or an effort spearheaded by Michele Bachmann calling for an investigation into Huma Abedin and alleged Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the federal government.
“Those are not things that are part of my campaign,” Romney said.
He also wouldn’t say whether he thinks members of his party talking about those issues are a distraction.
“I’m not going to tell other people what to talk about,” Romney said.
A smart strategy for Romney. Avoid getting caught up in the culture war nonsense, not to mention the chicken sandwich nonsense, and stay focused on the economy. One does wish he’d had the courage of John Boehner and spoken out more forcefully against the Michele Bachmann/Huma Abedin incident, though.
Getting back to the same-sex marriage issue, the authors make it sound like this is something new, though. I don’t recall John McCain saying much about same-sex marriage during his campaign in 2008, and even in 2004 the coordination between the national GOP and the state ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage was largely behind the scenes rather than something that was part of the national campaign. I don’t recall George W. Bush saying much of anything about same-sex marriage in 2004 to be honest. So, the fact that Romney wants to keep the campaign focused on the issues that the campaign believes are good for them is neither surprising nor new, although the decision to not fight the culture wars is one that I welcome.
More broadly, it seems fairly clear to me that as time goes on the GOP is going to have to continue with a strategy like this, at least in national elections. Already, a quarter of self-identified Republicans support same-sex marriage as outlined in the Pew poll I cited above. That number is only going to increase as time goes on, as is the number of Independent voters who support it. This is going to require the GOP to de-emphasize same-sex marriage as an issue or risk turning off not only the Independent voters it needs to win elections in states like Virginia and Ohio, but also an not insubstantial portion of its own party. Eventually, of course, there will come a time when those opposed to same-sex marriage are a minority even in the Republican Party and, at that point, the GOP will change its position on the issue. Hopefully by then we will have put this issue behind us anyway and started treating people equally, as the Constitution requires.