The purpose of politics isn’t simply to win but to win on principles that will advance the good of the country. A victory that comes at the expense of those principles will only hasten the country’s unraveling. Yet in some GOP circles that is the meaning of politics which now prevails.
How else to explain the glib comment from some Fox News pundits that the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision is “good news” for the GOP? Implied in such comments is the assumption that the GOP has a better chance of winning if it doesn’t have to defend the Constitution and the truth of marriage. But if that is the case, how valuable to the country’s future could such a GOP victory be?
It is impossible to imagine the Democrats thinking in similar terms. They would consider victory meaningless if the condition for obtaining it was that once in office they had to support tax cuts and limited government. Their principles are wrong but at least they try to win on them, whereas Republicans increasingly seek victory apart from any plan to implement Republican policies.
A party that sacrifices principle for victory often loses both, finding itself without power and in a state of ambiguity that gives the people even less of a reason to give power back to it. If the GOP chooses a me-too model over leadership based on sound principles, it will lose the White House yet again.
The me-too model appears to be the direction in which it is headed, judging by the weak remarks of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio after the Supreme Court’s ruling last week. Instead of stressing the outrageously unconstitutional character of the ruling, they signaled hasty acceptance of it. Neither candidate spoke of taking action to reverse the ruling. Rubio said that “we are a republic and must abide by the law,” at the very moment the justices had trampled upon that republic and instituted the lawlessness of the living constitution. Jeb Bush used the moment to communicate his “respect” for gay relationships. Anyone listening to their remarks could safely conclude that they would govern as de facto supporters of gay marriage.
Mario Cuomo once said that he personally opposed abortion but publicly supported it. Don’t be surprised if GOP candidates adopt a similar evasive line on gay marriage. If they do take that position, it will confirm the GOP’s uselessness as a defender of the Constitution and the traditional family. It will only be “conservative” in the most hapless of senses: it conserves destructive changes made to the law and society by Democrats. Mitt Romney foreshadowed this GOP future when he decided to avoid the topic of gay marriage in the campaign—he didn’t bring the subject up a single time in any of the debates—and urged his supporters to “move on” from culture-war squabbles.
It appears that the GOP is trying to leave the impression with voters that it will no longer fight against gay marriage but that it will fight for “religious liberty.” Of course, it won’t fight for religious liberty if defending religious liberty proves as tricky as defending marriage. If it can capitulate on gay marriage, it can certainly capitulate on religious liberty. It is hard to take “conservative” commentators seriously when they now speak of the “real issue” of religious liberty, as if they won’t counsel capitulation on that issue at some later point. After all, they have already accepted the idea that the GOP should only defend the Constitution when it is easy.
Most of the pundits counseling capitulation on gay marriage never wanted the GOP to fight gay marriage in the first place. They present their advice as dispassionate analysis but it is not. It reflects their indifference to the issue or their outright support for gay marriage. On matters important to them, they don’t support surrender. They support principled resistance. If polls begin to change, say, on tax cuts, they don’t suddenly support tax hikes. They continue to try and persuade the people that tax cuts constitute good policy.
In the case of gay marriage, the change was wrought not by the people but by the courts. A permanent cloud hangs over the Left’s victory. Once again, it achieved revolution not with the people but against them. This should make the GOP even more confident in pressing the case for undoing the decision. But it probably won’t, and that is a shame. A country that stakes it future on two political parties, which end up colluding against the Constitution and the traditional family, will not have a long one.