Newsworthy, if only because we should know how the GOP’s next nominee feels about the issue, no?

He can’t strongly oppose legalized gay marriage since he’s the favored candidate of the GOP’s centrist donor class but he can’t strongly support it either or he’ll be dancing around this landmine for the next 18 months. Social cons won’t vote for him in the primaries but they might vote for him in the general election if he doesn’t antagonize them too much. Given those parameters, “let the states decide” is the only viable position he could take, no?

“It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision,” the former governor said Sunday in a brief interview. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”…

In [a] 2012 interview, Bush told Charlie Rose that “if people love their children with all their heart and soul and that’s what they do and that’s how they organize their life, that should be held up as an example to others, because we need it.” In a speech to a Republican group last year, Bush warned against being a party seen as against too many things, including being “anti-gay.”…

“So the people should have the right to enact a discriminatory law?” said Howard Simon, director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the same-sex couples in the federal case against Florida’s gay-marriage amendment. “That sounds like what he was saying. That unfortunately is consistent from what I remember about Jeb Bush’s tenure as governor.”

Marco Rubio, another social conservative from the very purple state of Florida, also thinks gay marriage should be left to the states notwithstanding his personal support for traditional marriage. So does tea-party champion Ted Cruz, who’s been praised by no less than Barney Frank for taking a federalist approach that would allow blue states to legalize SSM instead of backing a (doomed) Federal Marriage Amendment that would ban the practice coast to coast. For Republican candidates across the spectrum, this issue is virtually no upside and all downside. Public support nationally for legalization continues to climb, and Obama’s already proved that backing gay marriage is no obstacle to winning a presidential election handily. The obvious play, even for righty stalwarts like Cruz, is to do your best to please your base while also doing your best not to alienate swing voters wary of a top-down “values” crusade against the tide of public opinion. Hence Bush’s stance.

What makes all of this newly interesting is Huckabee’s impending entry into the race. The exception to the “even most Republicans oppose national SSM bans” rule are the candidates like Huck, Ben Carson, and Rick Santorum who need an especially strong showing among social cons to make a dent. Even for them, there’s risk in it — Huckabee wants to be known mainly as a blue-collar Republican, not the guy who goes around grumbling about gays getting married, but he’ll have competition for evangelicals from Cruz. He needs to stand out somehow. The fascinating question raised by his candidacy is which of his rivals will suffer the most for it. Will he go after Jeb Bush’s federalist stance, seeking to impress righties as a man who’ll take it to the establishment on issues they care about, or will he go after Cruz’s and Rubio’s federalist stances, seeking to frame them as faux social cons who aren’t worthy of evangelical support? Specifically, imagine if Huckabee declares that all Republican candidates should say whether they’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who’ll uphold state gay marriage bans. In theory that’s an easy question for Bush, Rubio, and Cruz — as proud federalists, of course they’d appoint judges like that. What if, though, SCOTUS legalizes SSM as a matter of equal protection before 2016? In that case, Bush would be committing to appointing people who’ll overturn the new status quo that will, in all likelihood, enjoy majority support. Will swing voters go for that? Increasingly, I think, they see this issue as effectively settled even though social conservatives do not. (Actually, some social conservatives do too.) Huckabee doesn’t have the luxury of worrying about that (yet) since, as a longshot candidate, he needs to claw his way ahead of the better funded competitors; he can worry about finessing his SSM message if/when he’s the nominee. Bush, though, is probably worried about it already, per that tentative “I guess” at the end of his remarks about courts overturning marriage bans. How much is he willing to commit to undoing SSM once Huck, Carson, and Santorum start taking it to him on the issue?