Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus accepted the fact that his party’s social conservatism had alienated many young voters, women, and moderates. The party would still adhere to its platform, Priebus said in March, “but it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party…. I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics.”
At the time, this seemed quite sensible. Understanding the Republican Party’s unpopularity is a multi-faceted dynamic, but its economic failures and extremist tactics are only part of the larger problem. The GOP’s support for a far-right culture-war agenda — anti-contraception, anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights, anti-Planned Parenthood — has taken a toll, too.
This support has manifested itself in Republicans’ legislative priorities — the House GOP has been preoccupied this year with votes on abortion and birth control — but it’s not limited to Capitol Hill.
Marriage, abortion and religious liberty are the top cultural topics to be addressed at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit.
Conservative political issues will be a major part of the presentations, but the social-cultural issues “are what define us as an organization,” said retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council (FRC), a main sponsor of the annual conference, which is now in its eighth year.
Right Wing Watch highlighted some of the fringe extremists who’ll play prominent roles at the right-wing conference, but the key takeaway is simple: Republican leaders will join these fringe extremists as if they’re mainstream.
Looking over the list of confirmed speakers at the Values Voter Summit, we see several sitting Republican U.S. senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio), and many more sitting Republican U.S. House members (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Scott Turner of Texas).
The list of confirmed speakers also includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was on his party’s national presidential ticket less than a year ago.
And why are these guests important? Because it’s a reminder that no matter how much damage the Republican Party’s culture war does to the GOP’s reputation, they just can’t help themselves. The religious right movement may not be the powerhouse it once was — remember when the Christian Coalition was a major force in American politics? — but it still is a significant part of the GOP base, even if it helps drive mainstream voters away.
Indeed, for Republicans eyeing national office, this has become something of a rite of passage — if you want to compete for the GOP’s presidential nomination, you’ll have to suck up to the party’s theocratic wing.
A group of longtime Christian conservative activists are holding a private meeting Thursday in Washington to hear informal presentations from two of the most talked-about potential Republican presidential candidates: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The gathering is being held in conjunction with the Family Research Council’s Values Voters conference, an annual gathering of Christian conservatives in Washington, but it is not an official part of that event. Rather, it is being staged by a loosely-organized group of Republican leaders that call themselves “Conservatives of Faith.”
The hosts include Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, the conservative talk show host Janet Parshall and Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, along with a handful of others from the conservative movement. [Robert Fischer, a South Dakota-based conservative organizer] is the group’s chief organizer.
Meet the new Republican Party. When it comes to social conservatism, it’s entirely indistinguishable from the old Republican Party.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 11, 2013
“One More Card To Play”: How Religious Conservatives Plan To Regroup After Losing Marriage Discrimination
Last week was not a good one for Team Anti-Gay. The Supreme Court struck the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, and the nation’s largest state resumed marriages for same-sex couples. Nor is the future likely to be any better for opponents of equality. As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia complains in dissent, the Court’s opinion striking DOMA is riddled with language that can be used to attack anti-gay state laws. Moreover, two cases squarely presenting the issue of whether states must provide gay couples with the equal protection of the law are now ripe for review by the left-leaning United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The question of full, nationwide marriage equality could be before the justices in as little as two years.
And even if a majority of the Court does reject this final push for marriage equality, time is simply not on the side of discrimination. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans under 40 approve of the Supreme Court’s recent pro-marriage decision. The only age cohort where a majority oppose that decision are people over age 65. In twenty years, supporters of equality will run the country from top to bottom, and most opponents will be dead.
Religious conservatives, however, still have one more card to play in their efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT Americans. As the socially conservative writer Ross Douthat suggested shortly after the Court struck DOMA, the best way to continue to limit the rights of gay people is to “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.”
It’s clear that anti-gay leaders are already executing this contingency plan. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint claimed on Tuesday that marriage equality “means trampling First Amendment religious liberty protections along the way.” At least fifteen anti-gay individuals, ranging from wedding cake bakers to bed and breakfast owners to t-shirt makers, have claimed the right to discriminate against gay people — often in direct violation of the law — with many citing their religious beliefs as justification. The conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops claimed in a brief they filed in the Supreme Court that treating anti-gay discrimination permissively “protects the religious liberty of those employers with a religious objection to providing” health coverage to same-sex partners.
The Bishops’ brief may be the biggest window into how religious conservatives plan to construct a wall around their own right to discriminate. At the same time that the Bishops urged the justices to protect a special right to deny health care to gay people, numerous employers — with the enthusiastic backing of the Bishops themselves — are litigating the question of whether their religious objections to birth control give them the right to ignore a federal rule requiring them to include it in their employees’ health plans. Last week, a federal appeals court embraced a particularly aggressive reading of religious liberty that not only held that for profit companies may refuse to comply with the birth control rule, it also included language suggesting that a religious employer could refuse to comply with anti-discrimination law if they believed discrimination was compelled by their faith.
This, simply put, is the social conservative end game. They are not going to succeed in blocking marriage equality. But if they can exempt the very people who are most likely to engage in invidious discrimination against gay people from laws prohibiting such discrimination, then they can suck the life out of many pro-gay laws. Their exaggerated view of “religious liberty” can no more be squared with equality than it could when Bob Jones University claimed a similar religious right to engage in race discrimination.
Ultimately, social conservatives’ efforts to expand religious rights to the point where they devour other essential freedoms such as the right to be free from discrimination are likely to backfire. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court developed a workable framework for religious liberty. Such liberty is robust, but it does not include the right to engage in invidious discrimination, and it does not give businesses a right to “impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.” Then, in 1990, Justice Scalia blew up this framework with his majority opinion in Employment Div. v. Smith. Smith shrunk religious liberty far more than many Americans were willing to tolerate; Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) to restore the religious liberties lost in Smith almost unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Clinton.
Now, however, religious conservatives want to go far beyond the 1980s framework that RFRA restored. They claim both the right to defy anti-discrimination law and the right to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lee, which held that “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Religious liberties are rightfully enshrined in our Constitution, but they have not been understood as a sweeping right to deny equally important liberties to others. If religious conservatives insist upon the right to do so, the consensus that led to RFRA’s passage is likely to break down, and people of faith could ultimately wind up with fewer protections than they enjoyed before a small number of religious conservatives decided to overreach.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, July 3, 2013
Social conservatives are threatening to revolt against the the Republican Party, in the latest sign that the Republican National Committee’s “Growth & Opportunity Project” has little to no chance of success.
The latest Republican to strike a blow against the RNC’s rebranding plan is Tony Perkins, president of anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council. When it’s not pushing absurd conspiracy theories about ACORN and Obamacare, the FRC keeps busy by using pseudo-science to link homosexuality and pedophilia, and endorsing Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill, among other fringe right-wing activities. So naturally, Perkins isn’t thrilled with the RNC’s directive that “When it comes to social issues, the Party must in fact and indeed be inclusive and welcoming.”
Perkins has responded to the GOP reboot by directing his supporters to cut off their financial support for the party.
“Until the RNC and the other national Republican organizations grow a backbone and start defending core principles, don’t send them a dime of your hard-earned money,” Perkins wrote in an email to supporters Thursday night. “If you want to invest in the political process, and I encourage you to do so, give directly to candidates who reflect your values and organizations you trust — like FRC Action.”
Perkins went on to theorize that extreme right-wing social policies are not the GOP’s problem, but in fact the solution.
“Instead of trying to appease millennials, Republicans should try educating them on why marriage matters,” Perkins wrote. “There’s an entire group of ‘Countercultural Warriors’ full of compelling young leaders who are all going to the mat to protect marriage.”
Perkins’ boycott call comes just days after a group of 13 right-wing leaders (including Perkins) signed a letter warning the RNC that social conservatives will break away from the GOP if the party fails to reaffirm its 2012 platform, which calls for bans on gay marriage and abortion rights.
“We respectfully warn GOP Leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support,” the letter warns.
Striking a similar note as Perkins, the signatories speculate that “it is the faith-based community which offers Republicans their best hope of expanding their support” among African-Americans, young voters, and other voter groups that have become reliable Democratic bases.
Perkins and his colleagues on the religious right pose a major problem for Reince Priebus and the Republican Party. Social conservatives still make up the majority of the party’s voter base, a fact that is not going to change anytime soon. But these voters are increasingly out of step with the rest of the country on just about every social issue. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds, for example, that 73 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents support legalizing same-sex marriage — up 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively, from 2009. Only 27 percent of Republicans support marriage equality, however, up just 5 percent from four years ago.
There aren’t enough “Countercultural Warriors” in the world to make up for that kind of gap — nor is there any evidence that the GOP’s target groups would even be amenable to being lectured by the party’s right wing.
What’s worse for Priebus is that it’s not entirely clear what more the Republican Party can do to appease social conservatives. As Maddow Blog’s Steve Benen points out:
Why, exactly, do social conservatives feel so aggrieved? On a purely superficial level, the party does not want to be perceived as right-wing culture warriors because Priebus and Co. realize that this further alienates younger, more tolerant voters. But below the surface, Republicans, especially at the state level, are banning abortion and targeting reproductive rights at a breathtaking clip, pursuing official state religions, eliminating sex-ed, going after Planned Parenthood, and restricting contraception. Heck, we even have a state A.G. and gubernatorial candidate fighting to protect an anti-sodomy law.
Indeed, Priebus himself recently penned an op-ed for a right-wing blog accusing Democrats of supporting infanticide by refusing to defund Planned Parenthood. If that type of rhetoric isn’t extreme enough to appease Perkins and his cohorts, then it’s unclear what the GOP’s next step could be.
So the RNC is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It can’t afford to lose the support of its base, but the longer the likes of Perkins and Rick Santorum maintain control of the party’s public message, the harder it will be for Republicans to win national elections.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, April 12, 2013
“Old Testament Heretics”: Priebus And Republicans Will Continue To Base Social Policies On The Wishes Of The Religious Right
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus sat down with USA Today around the same time marriage equality was being discussed at the U.S. Supreme Court, and the paper reported that the GOP’s “absolute opposition to same-sex marriage” is unchanged, though Priebus intends to “welcome” those who disagree.
“We do have a platform, and we adhere to that platform,” Priebus said in an interview Monday on USA TODAY’s Capital Download video series. “But it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party” who support the right of gay men and lesbians to marry.
“I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics,” he said, saying Republicans “have to strike a balance between principle and grace and respect.”
I’m not sure Priebus is using “heretic” correctly. Was he trying to say Republicans don’t have to act like Old Testament absolutists? Purists? Literalists?
In any case, I find the RNC chairman’s larger point fascinating. On the one hand, Priebus is saying that Republicans will continue to demand that millions of Americans be denied equal marriage rights and be treated like second-class citizens. On the other, Priebus is also saying Americans who disagree should vote Republican anyway. Why? Because his party will treat LGBT Americans with “respect” while treating them like second-class citizens.
Republicans, in other words, will continue to base their social policies on the wishes of the religious right movement, but Priebus would prefer that voters not think of them that way — as if parties have a choice in dictating how they’re perceived by the public.
As for the bigger picture, the political winds are clearly shifting in a progressive direction when it comes to marriage rights, but at the Republican National Committee, the only apparent change is in tone.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 27, 2013