Friday’s comments and the selection of Teetsel to be Rubio’s point man with evangelical voters may offset some of the flack he’s been catching with social conservatives for his association with Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire and staunch backer of marriage rights for same-sex couples. At the same time, Teetsel’s hardline stance on social issues—he’s compared homosexuality to slavery, for example—could prove problematic for Rubio should he make it to the general election.
It all highlights just how politically dicey the marriage issue can be for Republicans. Same-sex marriage is supported by a majority of Americans and a growing number of Republicans, particularly younger ones. But it’s still very unpopular among white evangelicals, a major GOP voting bloc that holds a lot of sway in states with early primary contests, such as Iowa and South Carolina.
Singer, a major GOP donor, endorsed Rubio last month. When New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, Singer played a pivotal role in the successful effort by meeting with Republican legislators and spending significant sums on advertising to praise the move’s backers.
Just a year later, the billionaire’s future presidential favorite cut an automated phone call for an organization that fought Singer tooth-and-nail in the halls of Albany: the National Organization for Marriage, which is the country’s most energetic and outspoken group fighting same-sex marriage. NOM teamed up with the Floridian to tape robocalls about the importance of opposing marriage equality. The calls went to swing-state voters and voters in states where the issue was on the ballot.