RNC chief clarifies: Yes, our party still believes marriage is between a man and a woman

I’m not surprised he said it — it’s in the party platform, after all — but I am surprised he didn’t say it more enthusiastically. Between the conciliatory attitude in the RNC “autopsy” towards gay-marriage supporters and Priebus’s own cheery nonchalance about Rob Portman’s support for SSM, social conservatives must be wondering about the party’s commitment to them. Russert asking him about it here was an easy opportunity for Priebus to say something reassuring. Instead, he ends up treating the section in the platform about traditional marriage almost as a technicality. Note to Reince from a pro-gay marriage righty: A chunk of your base is getting nervous.

“The report didn’t mention religion much, if at all,” said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. “You cannot grow your party by distancing yourself from your base, and this report doesn’t reinforce the values that attracted me and many other people into the Republican Party in the first place. It just talks about reaching out to other groups.”

Sandy Rios, an Evangelical radio host and Fox News contributor, said the RNC report’s proposals amount to a “namby-pamby” abdication of religious values, and warned that the party could soon lose the grassroots engine that has powered its electoral victories for decades.

“They should be deeply concerned they’re going to be alienating their base,” Rios said, adding, “It seems to me that the leadership of the party is intent on that course. Most Christian conservatives are not going to be party loyalists over principle, and so the GOP has a lot more to lose than Christians.”…

If Republican officials feel confident that they can soften the party’s stance on social issues without any real risk of losing their religious base, it may be because the Christian right hasn’t presented a united front in nearly a decade. Not since 2004, when Evangelicals swarmed to the ballot to support a marriage amendment in Ohio, and re-elect George W. Bush, have those voters managed to coalesce around a winning presidential candidate.

Easy prediction: They’ll present a united front in 2016, especially if the Supreme Court forces the issue front and center by finding a right to gay marriage in the Fourteenth Amendment this year. That’s going to be agony for a candidate like Rubio, who’s looking to build a coalition between conservatives and centrists and doesn’t want the headache of having to decide whether to support a Federal Marriage Amendment that’s going nowhere. Conversely, it’ll be a gift to an avowed social con like Santorum or Huckabee who can make the issue a centerpiece of their campaign. The next party platform will be a headache too. Does the GOP stick with the current formulation of marriage between one man and one woman as the “national standard”? Do they downgrade to a federalist approach where they endorse one man/one woman but specify that the states should decide? Or do they go totally squishy by saying that factions within the party disagree? Hard to believe social cons will go for that.

Apropos of nothing, Pew’s out today with new polling data on gay marriage. Most of the numbers are familiar by now, and the ones that aren’t familiar aren’t surprising. E.g., when people who changed their minds on gay marriage are asked why, a plurality say it’s because someone they know is gay, just as Rob Portman did. A key data set:


I found this fascinating, too:


I never would have guessed that a minor tweak to the question could swing the numbers by 10 points. (Presumably some people are hearing the word “illegal” and thinking criminal punishment, which pushes them into the pro-SSM camp.) Someone needs to go back and look carefully at the wording of various state ballot initiatives to see how they correspond to results at the polls. If you want to maximize your chances of banning gay marriage, keep the word “illegal” out of it.

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