In the wake of Obama’s historic support for gay marriage and Mitt Romney’s Cranbrook bullying of a gay student, public opinion researcher and Bush’s 2004 pollster Jan van Lohuizen issued a warning to Republicans – change your stance on gay marriage or become irrelevant.
Citing poll numbers, van Lohuizen makes the case for why Republicans need to change their position on gay marriage and they need to do it yesterday. See, it’s not just Democrats and young people who support equal rights for gay couples anymore. Support among Republicans is on the rise.
Politico reported (read the full memo on Politico):
3. Polling conducted among Republicans show that majorities of Republicans and Republican leaning voters support extending basic legal protections to gays and lesbians. These include majority Republican support for:
a. Protecting gays and lesbians against being fired for reasons of sexual orientation
b. Protections against bullying and harassment
c. Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
d. Right to visit partners in hospitals
e. Protecting partners against loss of home in case of severe medical emergencies or death
f. Legal protection in some form for gay couples whether it be same sex marriage or domestic partnership (only 29% of Republicans oppose legal recognition in any form).
It isn’t that Republican leaders have changed their mind or that it’s suddenly right in their opinion, but they must change their position because the polls are shifting in such a way that it will be impossible to win elections if they do not. The polls are shifting not just from a generational standpoint, but a rethinking of the issue across the board. Thus, Republicans must now change their stance on gay marriage.
The question is, how can they get the base on board? After all, Republicans have made quite a show of demonizing gay people as infidels, even blaming the gay community for their own failed marriages. High profile Republicans are on record repeatedly suggesting that gay men are child molesters. They have cited Jesus and the Bible as proof that gay is bad. Republicans have used their demonizing of the gay community to get out the vote. After so much conditioning, their religious base may actually believe that the soul of America depends upon their successful theft of rights from the gay community.
Here’s van Lohuizen’s suggested insight into how to get out of this conundrum by co-opting the notion of personal freedom via cognitive dissonance and political expediency:
“People who believe in equality under the law as a fundamental principle, as I do, will agree that this principle extends to gay and lesbian couples; gay and lesbian couples should not face discrimination and their relationship should be protected under the law. People who disagree on the fundamental nature of marriage can agree, at the same time, that gays and lesbians should receive essential rights and protections such as hospital visitation, adoption rights, and health and death benefits.”
Van Lohuizen kindly provides answers to follow up questions Republicans may face as they work to reframe the gay marriage issue. We wouldn’t want anyone thinking on their own – that’s how mistakes are made. He suggests the following as a way to rebrand gay marriage as conservative freedom:
“As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.”
The problem with conservative freedom is that it is obviously dependent upon what the majority think, and what is politically expedient, rather than consistent, fundamental beliefs or values. This sums up all that is wrong with the modern Republican Party. We have Republican Scott Walker implementing Obama economics in a desperate attempt to save his job in Wisconsin and now we have Republicans being warned to walk back their stance on gay marriage – a stance that just this week resulted in a constitutional amendment restricting rights from gay couples in North Carolina.
How can a person be for restricting rights today and tomorrow suddenly sell personal freedom? The Republican base is not known for their independent thinking, but at some point, Republicans are going to have to face them on this issue and it just might be too entrenched to ease out of easily.
This is good news for gay rights if Republicans actually follow van Lohuizen’s advice, but how will the conservative base react when the same leaders who have been jacking up their fears about how gay marriage is an abomination against God open their freedom arms to the alleged infidels?
If the Republican Party is really the party of personal freedom as van Lohuizen warns them to claim, then why are they limiting women’s freedom right now? If the Republican Party is really the party of small government, then why are they using government to take away rights from gays, women, immigrants, and more? If the Republican Party really is the party of personal freedom and liberty, then why did it take polls and an over-whelming majority to get Republicans to suddenly see this issue as an issue of freedom and liberty?
Sadly, this is really what’s wrong with the Republican Party – it has become a party with no values. The leaders use social wedge issues to get out the vote and jack up the base, but the issues are not consistent with any values. They change according to political expediency and they rely upon cherry pickings of the Bible for buttressing.
Republicans use social conservative wedge issues to position themselves and then they pivot away from those same issues as needed. This is why Mitt Romney, who is on record saying that he supports a Constitutional amendment to restrict gay marriage rights, keeps sneering that smart reporters will only ask him questions about the economy and not those irrelevant social issues he used to hobble his way across the primary finish line.
Republicans have used the social issues to catapult them into a semblance of relevance since they can’t get there on their failed policies alone — and now it’s time to pivot. In other words, thanks Republican Jesus, but they’re all done with you now. Please go away.
I doubt Republicans are going to be able to sell van Lohuizen’s talking points to the fundamentalists. Instead of admitting their pivot, Republicans will pull a Romney with the public by just refusing to discuss this issue anymore. Get ready for more condescending, smug talking points that the general economy is all they want to talk about (but never the actual result of their economic policies; see Wisconsin) as Republicans hide from their past and their Tea Party base.
Republicans can’t afford to alienate their base on this issue but they can’t win elections if they keep attacking gay rights. If the base catches on to the GOP dropping the gay ball, a Republican Party civil war may be on the horizon.
Pressing question: Is the Republican Jesus really just a pollster, and if so, what is the value of a belief if it changes with the political wind? If our liberty must first be sanctioned by the majority, are we really free?
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.