Ted Cruz has now responded to the brouhaha over his Manhattan fundraiser hosted by two prominent gay hoteliers. He argues that there’s no contradiction between his opposition to gay marriage and saying that he would love his daughter if one of his two daughters was gay. In truth, there really is not a necessary contradiction. That’s a totally valid point. But that hardly exhausts the issue or the balancing act (to use a generous formulation) that national Republicans are trying to pull off. They have to balance between a base that remains committed to opposing not only gay marriage but what we might call the normalization of gay life under the law, and a general public that has really moved on from this issue and is beginning to see legal inequality as on the par with de jure racial discrimination. As I said yesterday, we’re seeing the rise of a gay rights policy mullet – same old same old when talking to the base, but a very different way of talking about attitudes toward LGBT Americans when talking to the general public – and specifically, super-rich campaign donors.
Back to this point of whether there’s a contradiction. I don’t think there’s necessarily a contradiction. But there is quite a tension, to put it mildly. What’s the tonality? It’s one thing to oppose gay marriage as a legal matter. Quite another to rail against gay ‘activists’ forcing their ‘lifestyle’ on ordinary Americans, like Cruz and his fellow base Republican candidates do.
We’ve already seen how many national Republicans remain opposed to gay marriage but seem, when making the argument, to want to focus on how they believe homosexuality is not a choice, have gay friends and really can’t wait to go to a gay wedding, even though they don’t think there should be any. When Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson tried to find a middle ground on his state’s ‘religious liberty’ bill, he said basically, I’m so meh on this, even my son thinks I’m behind the times.
As a side note, don’t miss this piece about Bobby Jindal. The Governor of Louisiana still thinks he might be running for President, all evidence notwithstanding. So he’s looking at making himself the poster boy for anti-gay ‘religious liberty’, not giving in too Big Gay and Corporate America like Indiana did.
But back to our main story.
In Maggie Haberman’s follow up on Cruz’s Manhattan fundraiser, she notes that Cruz told the guests at the event that he thinks gay marriage should be left to the states. That’s not totally inconsistent with his rhetoric on the campaign trail, since most of his proposed policies focus on protecting anti-gay marriage states from federal interference. But does Cruz really think the federal government should be agnostic on this issue? Does he think married gay couples should get federal benefits like Social Security and so forth as married couples? I doubt very much that’s an argument he’s willing to get behind on the campaign trail.
This is going to be a constant issue going forward through the 2016 campaign – even the candidate who is trying to stand out with his anti-marriage equality cred tries to hem and haw when he’s raising money in New York. In New York, marriage equality is a minor, principled policy disagreement amidst warm feelings about respect and compassion for all Americans; on the campaign trail it’s the beating heart of the rearguard fight in defense of traditional America. You can muscle those two visions into alignment if you really press hard. But they still can’t fit together.
Please keep an eye out for more examples of this regional/base equivocation – “base in the front, all 21st century in the back” – and shoot me an email with links when you see it.