10 years ago, when the same-sex marriage issue became a huge wedge issue that Republicans used to drive their people to the voting booths, it would seem almost impossible how much things have changed. But look at how Republican power brokers are reacting to the spate of anti-gay “religious freedom” laws being proposed in the states:
As Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer weighs whether to sign a bill that would allow businesses to deny services to gay customers, top national Republicans just want the issue to go away.
Proponents of the legislation — which Brewer has until Saturday to sign or veto and is reportedly leaning against — say the bill is designed to protect religious liberty. But many Washington Republicans see it as a political loser, giving the left another cudgel to attack conservatives as intolerant while motivating liberals and younger voters ahead of the midterm elections. It also threatens to widen the chasm between social conservatives and GOP operatives, who have become increasingly public in their support for gay marriage…
The state’s Republican senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, are prodding the governor to veto the bill on financial grounds, warning that boycotts of Arizona could do untold economic damage to the state. They even worried about losing next year’s Super Bowl.
“I know that the entire business community is galvanized, in a way that I’ve never seen, against this legislation,” said McCain.
“I hope she moves quickly,” Flake said. “I just don’t see any reason to wait.”…
A Republican strategist active in congressional races said the bill will most likely be a nonfactor in the midterms if Brewer vetoes it. Boycott threats and strong opposition from the business community in Arizona could deter other states from taking up similar legislation.
“If it becomes law, it will be a big issue,” the person said. “All indications are that she’s likely to veto it, and if she does … eight months from now, it’s pretty much ancient history.”
“The idea that someone in Montana, or North Carolina or Alaska will predicate their vote for Senate on a law in a state 2,000 miles away is crazy,” said GOP consultant Brian Walsh.
If Brewer signs the legislation, the major concern of party strategists is that opponents would launch an effort to overturn it. A referendum in November would allow the debate about whether denying services to gays is discriminatory to simmer through November, drawing global attention and increasing turnout among younger, liberal voters. This could complicate GOP hopes of holding the open governorship and picking up targeted House seats.
Others say the controversy comes at a bad time for the party. Mark McKinnon, ad maker for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, said “the GOP rebranding effort is [the] classic one step forward, two steps back.”
“In this country, the arc of human rights always bends forward, never backwards,” said McKinnon, a co-founder of the centrist group No Labels. “So these kinds of incidents are always backward steps for the Republican Party because they remind voters they are stuck in the past.”
Republican consultant Steve Schmidt, a supporter of gay marriage rights who was McCain’s senior strategist on his 2008 presidential campaign, called the bill a political mess.
“It makes the party of Lincoln and Reagan look small, closed and intolerant and exacerbates our political differences with every single demographic group in America that is growing,” he said.
Mike Murphy, another prominent GOP strategist, said the bill makes holding the party’s 2016 convention in Phoenix “a terrible idea.”
“Bill should be vetoed and buried,” he emailed. “Bad on merits and politically it gives the Democrats a useful wedge issue.”
This is part of the ongoing battle for the soul of the Republican party and it reinforces the bind the party leadership is in. They don’t want to alienate their anti-gay base but they also don’t want to chase away younger voters and independent voters, who view this kind of thing as old-fashioned and ridiculous. A lot has changed in a decade.