Only the most vicious partisans on either side of the aisle care a whit for the party platform. The outdated practice of defining a political party’s ideals in writing so that they can be ignored by the institution’s elected officials serves only the opposition’s purposes.
For Republicans, the platform’s codification of the GOP’s support for banning of all legal abortion practices and legally defining marriage as an institution that exists only between a man and a woman have provided their Democratic opponents ample opportunity to frame the party as “extreme.” The Democrats, too, stumbled into a public relations nightmare when the debate over their party platform in 2012 devolved into a chorus of boos. Whether angry Democrats were booing God Himself or merely the fact that Israel’s capital city remains the undivided city of Jerusalem is a subject of some debate, but the conclusion remains the same. The episode demonstrated that the partisans who were tasked with drafting and ratifying the platform are generally out of step with the public.
The party platform served its purpose long ago, but the two parties have grown so personality-driven as the powers of the presidency have expanded that it might be time to retire that practice entirely. But if presidential nominating conventions are going to continue to compose a uniform set of principles to which party members are supposed to adhere, it would be ideal for those principles to alienate as few persuadable voters as possible. To that end, Republicans are reportedly going about ensuring that 2012 was the last year in which the issue of gay marriage appeared on the GOP platform.
The National Journal’s Alex Roarty observed on Monday that the GOP is evolving on the issue of gay marriage, albeit not as rapidly as the rest of the country. In the years since George W. Bush occupied the Oval Office, the legal barriers preventing gay marriages have disappeared in most states, and the majority of American voters support the right of gay couples to wed.
But public opinion has little or nothing to do with the drafting of a party’s platform. That work is done by partisans on both ends of the political spectrum, and the document they draw up has become more of an activist positioning statement rather than an elucidation of broadly shared principles. Amending the party’s platform means electing a new set of delegates to the platform committee, and those Republicans Roarty spoke with are ready to meet that challenge.
“The urgency [Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry campaign manager Jerri Ann] Henry and others feel is rooted as much in politics as in values,” The National Journal reported. “The argument they are making to skeptical Republicans is blunt: If the GOP’s 2016 presidential nominee opposes gay marriage, he or she will lose to Hillary Clinton.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage know the assault is coming. Even foes such as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins acknowledge that Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and its allies this year are better organized in this fight than his side. But it wouldn’t be the first time that pro-gay-marriage Republicans have tried to soften or remove the party’s platform position, only to be met with even stronger language.
Henry says this time is different, with a better-funded and well-organized effort that has started earlier than ever before. “It only sounds unreasonable,” she says, “if you don’t understand the momentum behind this issue already.”
And that’s the real obstacle in front of the GOP’s gay marriage proponents. Roarty noted that they must convince the party’s organizational leaders that the backlash to abandoning hostility toward same-sex marriage rights from social conservatives will be minimal. According to the polling, that day is not far off.
An NBC News/Marist University survey of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina recently found that a majority now see opposition to gay marriage as mostly or totally unacceptable for the party’s presidential nominee. Only in Iowa did a narrow plurality of likely Republican caucus-goers say opposition to gay marriage remains an acceptable position for a prospective nominee to hold.
The party is changing. If scrapping the party platform altogether is not on the table, the GOP’s position on relatively inconsequential social issues should at least be reflective of the changing dynamics around the country. If the most controversial aspect of the GOP platform is its opposition to elective abortions, a position that is increasingly shared by the public, it will become that much harder for Democrats to frame the GOP as the party of extreme social values.