It is no secret that there is considerable friction between the extreme fiscal wing of the GOP and its extreme social/religious one. The former occupy the top levels of the national party leadership and care mainly about helping the wealthy get wealthier at the expense of the rest of us, and have for long used conservative social issues mainly as a way to fire up their base and get them to vote for them. They managed to keep the nutters out of leadership positions in the party and tossed the crazies a few rhetorical crumbs now and then to keep them happy.
The social/religious conservatives have a greater voice at the local level and seem to have had enough of being marginalized. They now want to be in the driver’s seat of the party and they want their agenda to be the party’s road map, not relegated to an afterthought.
I said just after the 2008 election that John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate would cause this schism because with her the nutters got their first taste of leadership. They had tasted blood and wanted more. The surfacing of the divisions took longer to come to fruition than I expected but the tension has become more acute following the 2012 defeat, with the traditional GOP leadership seeing the demographic and social trends requiring them to ease up on formerly hard positions on homosexuality and, to a lesser extent, on immigration and abortion, and sending out signals that the party is thinking of softening its stand on these issues.
In response, a Who’s Who of social/religious conservatives have sent out a memo warning the GOP that if they soften their stand on same-sex marriage, they will abandon the party, though where they will go is not clear. One of them, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has already called on his followers to stop donating to the GOP unless they stop being ‘wobbly’ on same-sex marriage.
They sent this warning shot out on the eve of a meeting in Hollywood of the Republican National Committee and it looks like the pressure worked, at least for now, with the party passing a resolution that affirmed support for Proposition 8 and resisting giving the national leadership more power over candidate selection.
The victory in Hollywood assuaged the concerns of the grass-roots activists for now, but FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe cautioned in a statement after the vote that friction remains over whether power will continue to be held in the states or with party elites in Washington, D.C.
A new poll shows that 66% of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, even as the country as a whole increasingly accepts it so the problem GOP faces of whether to hold on to its core base while losing the country or appealing to the country while losing its base hasn’t gone away.