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Monday, August 27, 2007

What Will the GOP Do?

With Karl Rove out the door, the election issue of "gay marriage" in ‘08 may have gone out with him

By Steve Charing

The architect of cynicism, Karl Rove, abandoned the floundering Bush administration, and this may be the first positive news to come out of Washington, D.C. since the Capitals signed Alexander Ovechkin. His departure, under a cloud of legal questions, is welcomed across-the-board.

Rove’s goal of long-term GOP domination failed. Bush’s key domestic agenda tanked. The 2006 election was a debacle. And the president’s approval rating stuck in low gear with an unkind legacy awaiting him. But most important, at least for progressive Americans, the divisive Rove can be legitimately blamed for the election and re-election of George W. Bush.

As the chief political strategist and advisor to President Bush, Karl Rove, an agnostic, used fear tactics in targeting the "faith community" to seduce evangelicals and other religious and social conservatives to the polls in 2004 and vote for Bush. In doing so, he and his minions beat on "gay marriage," and consequently, gays and their families, like a war drum.

Rove oversaw the placement of constitutional amendments in eleven states so that the lightening-rod issue of gay marriage would be a key component of the 2004 election campaign. Besides appealing to religious Protestants, Rove used it as a wedge issue to divide otherwise dependable Democrats who were socially conservative, such as many African-Americans and Catholics. Radio ads, fiery sermons and distorted printed literature were the means used to alarm and divide Americans.

This strategy was successful in that all eleven states passed amendments banning same-sex marriage. It may have contributed to Bush’s crucial victory in Ohio—a significant battleground state—as evidenced by the fact Bush defeated Kerry by a slim 51 to 48 percent margin, but the amendment banning same-sex marriage passed by a much greater margin, 62 to 38 percent. This suggests that conservatives were drawn to the polls in greater numbers, with the anti-gay marriage voters more likely to vote for Bush.

As we head deeper into the 2008 presidential campaign, which has already been in full swing for months, the likelihood of same-sex marriage becoming a significant factor is quite dim. Even the wicked Rove, had he stayed on to be major player, would have likely put the issue on the shelf to some extent.

Much to the despair of many gay activists, all but two Democratic candidates have been careful not to publicly support the "M-word," though they favor strong civil union arrangements with all the Federal rights and benefits that would accrue to any married couple. By avoiding the overt advocacy of same-sex marriage, they keep the bull’s-eye off their backs on this issue.

The general population, led by younger voters, is trending slowly towards supporting some form of gay union. Most still disapprove of same-sex marriage probably because of religious beliefs, but there is some movement towards equality. And it is important to state that the number of people who identify as "intensely religious" in a Pew Research Center survey has declined significantly during the past four years.

Add that dynamic to a recent CNN poll indicating that such social issues as abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage are on the back burner in the minds of voters. They see the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care and education as more pressing matters.

It’s now been years since "activist judges" tried to redefine marriage in Massachusetts, and with the Bay State possessing the lowest divorce rate in the country, nobody could claim that same-sex marriage has adversely affected the institution.

The Republican candidates during the primary season all oppose same-sex marriage. But rather than trying to scare the voters on that issue and beating up the Dems since the front runners already oppose it, they are directing their energies to the absurd term "Islamofascism" and frightening the masses about illegal immigration. These are the bread and butter issues for the GOP during the 2008 campaign.

Immigration, excessive spending and the mismanaged war in Iraq have riled conservatives and divided the Party. It is pointless, therefore, to try to unify the GOP on gay marriage when the chasm is so deep on these other more pressing matters.

And if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Dems’ nominee, the Republicans will have a huge arsenal of darts to throw at her. Gay marriage? Oh, that’s so 2004!

Just as the Republicans centered their 2004 strategy on post-9/11 and to a lesser degree, gay marriage, the Democrats will make the 2008 election about Bush-Cheney and the war in Iraq although neither of these two villains will be on the ballot. Health care, education, the environment, energy independence, terrorism, globalization, immigration and myriad other issues will dominate the discourse.

Gay marriage is expected to recede as a hot-button subject. The Democratic-controlled Congress will not entertain another bid for a Federal Marriage Amendment, which should douse any demagoguery on the issue. Few if any states plan ballot initiatives to amend their constitutions this time around as most that are inclined already have them. In Maryland, though, it is still an open matter pending the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

As the campaign heats up during the primaries and then on to the general election, strategists for both parties will survey what’s most on voters’ minds and what would be a winning formula for victory. It is unlikely the GOP will pull gay marriage out of their bag of tricks given the other dominating issues.
Moreover, as a result of the gay escapades of former Republican Congressman Mark Foley coupled with the recent toilet incident involving Republican Senator Larry Craig, the GOP would be better served if they don't sound the "gay" alarm bells or even bring up the subject.

And I believe even Karl Rove would have thought the same if he remained in the game.

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