Op-ed: GOP Strategy Could Haunt Them



 It’s yet another indication of how vulnerable Republicans are on the gay issue, captive to their increasingly extreme base while the American mainstream is moving forward rapidly. And it’s something Democrats and the media should pick up on, point out forcefully, and run with. The president and his advisers might have thought this was a safe bone to pick because it involved chastising the Republicans on the issue of patriotism and attacking our troops serving overseas. But the booing would not have taken off as a controversy and outraged so many Americans if a majority had not also come to believe — as the polls have shown us — that gay and lesbian Americans should have full civil rights.

Indeed, all of a sudden Republicans would rather not talk about gay rights, after years of using it as an issue to fire up their base. Look at the GOP debates for evidence. Not until the Fox News–Google debate, the seventh one, which solicited questions from Americans online, did we see LGBT issues raised much at all, including the issue of marriage, during a time when New York became the sixth and most significant state to allow gays and lesbians to marry. At both the MSNBC–Politico debate at the Reagan Library in California and the CNN–Tea Party Express debate in Tampa, Fla., both of which took place in September, there was no discussion of any kind about gay issues.

 It’s true that it’s up to the moderators to ask, but the campaigns offer up question topics, and during the debate candidates can shift discussion to focus like a laser beam on an issue a candidate prefers — like the HPV vaccine, health care, taxes, or immigration.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called out the former Pennsylvania senator and moral crusader Rick Santorum on his not bringing up gay issues during the debate at the Reagan Library: “You know, senator, candidates know how to take a question and give the answer they want. The smart politician gives a quick answer to the question, then says what they want to say. Nobody used that technique tonight to bring up ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and to support it, nobody came out against same-sex marriage tonight…. It seems like your party believes that you can’t win this general election if you talk about same-sex marriage.”

Born-again Michele Bachmann, a darling of the Christian right when she was a Minnesota state legislator who tried to get a marriage amendment passed, didn’t want to discuss her antigay positions with reporters throughout the early part of the campaign, when she was surging in the polls and trying to appeal to the mainstream. She wanted to discuss her husband Marcus’s “pray away the gay” program at his Christian counseling centers even less. Only when her candidacy plummeted did she begin publicly addressing gay issues, desperately turning to the religious right to jump-start her dead campaign. Republicans seem to now see the gay issue as one with niche appeal in their party and as a loser in the mainstream.