Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unheeded voices

In the video above, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has guaranteed that he won’t be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, something he has repeatedly insisted he’s not interested in, anyway. Christie's sin was not marching in lock step with the party's extremist core.

Christie opposes marriage equality like most Republican politicians, but he supports civil unions, which will raise the hackles of party activists who oppose both. But he also says that while his church says homosexuality is a sin, he personally believes gay people are born that way, and so, are not sinful simply for being gay. In Republican eyes, that makes him a heretic both religiously and politically. These positions will also be “deal breakers” for the Republican activists who were pressuring him to run, including Iowa activists who are hell-bent, as it were, on repealing marriage equality in that state and outlawing any recognition of same-sex relationships, like the civil unions Christie supports.

At the bottom of this post is another video, of former Republican Utah Governor John Huntsman talking about his support for civil unions (tip o’ the hat to Roger Green for supplying the link in an earlier comment). Huntsman says he’ll announce his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on June 21. He already has one strike against him, in party activists’ eyes, because he’s a Mormon; his support for civil unions makes him even less likely to win the nomination.

Neither man is a moderate—they’re still conservative in an absolute sense, with the difference being mainly degree, emphasis and the issues they focus on. However, they’re part of a growing trend among Republican politicians who are turning their back on the “social issues” that party activists who control the party’s machinery are so loud and aggressive about.

This is sensible: The general voting public (including, it should be noted, ordinary Republican voters), don’t share the rigid ideology of the party activists and leaders. An overwhelming majority of Americans support at least civil unions for same-sex couples, and polls now show a clear majority support marriage equality. Those same polls show that support is growing even among Republican voters.

This all means that the Republican Party is falling farther and farther behind the general public—and their own voters—as they pander to a small, but extremely loud minority in their party. Of course, Republican voters are more conservative than Democrats or most independents, but the evidence shows that they’re not always as conservative about every issue as their leaders pretend.

All of which means that both Christie and Huntsman are arguably closer to the views of true Republican (and many independent) voters than are the loud, aggressive party activists or the current bunch of candidates pandering to them. The problem for both these men, and other Republicans like them, is that the machinery of the party is firmly in the hands of those hard-right activists, who are also far more likely to vote in Republican primaries than are the less rigidly ideological majority of Republican voters.

Still, any Republican who wants to actually be elected president, and not merely win the nomination and bragging rights, needs to connect with independents and more moderate Republicans; pandering to the frothing right is a recipe for electoral defeat. Personally, I think both Christie and Huntsman know that. I just don’t think the party apparatus is yet willing to move with the times.

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