Imagine for a minute you run a political party that has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, has been consistently ranked dead last behind your opponent and independents in Gallup’s party identification survey the past five years, and is struggling to keep its party together let alone attract new voters.
If you were running that party, probably the last thing you would want to do is abandon an issue that 41 million Americans in 35 states have voted in favor of the past 15 years — especially when that same issue has won 89 percent of the voter referendums in which it has been contested.
But you wouldn’t be running the Republican Party.
The issue here is marriage. An issue the majority of Californians voted in favor of in 2008 on the same day they overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama for president. An issue that received 300,000 more votes in Michigan on Election Day 2004 than George W. Bush did in that state. An issue that 61 percent of North Carolinians voted for in 2012, the same year only 51 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney for president.
These examples (and there are more) indicates marriage is one of the few base conservative issues left that has a track record of consistently attracting both minority and non-traditional Republican voters to the polls. And the last time I looked, the GOP could use as many of those voters as it can get.
Unfortunately the “smart” people running the Republican Party beg to differ. Experts at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and with losing embedded in their very DNA, these Lords of the Realm have decided that all of a sudden the American people don’t care about faith and values anymore. Regardless of all the success faith and values entertainment is enjoying at the moment.
Sure, right now momentum seems to be on the side of those who oppose marriage (no mere mortal has a “right” to redefine anything Almighty God has ordained), but if the country has suddenly gone depraved, it would be the quickest turn of events on a moral issue in American history.
We debated slavery for almost a century before that injustice was finally corrected. We’ve been debating the killing of innocent little babies for almost a half-century, and that injustice remains at a standstill. The institution of marriage is the oldest in all of human civilization, but the debate over marriage didn’t start until well after Al Gore allegedly invented the Internet.
Before Election Day 2012, marriage had won 31 consecutive elections, and won in places where Republicans never win — like the People’s Republics of California and Oregon. As recently as July 2013, a Gallup poll found only 43 percent of the American people favored overturning marriage in all 50 states (again, no mere mortal has a “right” to redefine something Almighty God has ordained). Ten months later, those numbers have flipped, but marriage remains about 20 percentage points more popular in Gallup polling than the Republican Party brand.
Yet with marriage suffering four defeats in the last presidential election cycles, and the ruling class of the Republican Party growing unwilling to defend any issue its base actually cares about, it appears the fix is in.
Former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson has been one of the lead attorneys opposing marriage in the courts. Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., was mostly silent after last year’s Supreme Court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and remains silent as Christians nationwide now face unprecedented threats to religious freedom as a result of that ruling.
In March, the last two Republican presidential nominees publicly urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that would have preserved the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. The Republican Party of Nevada recently removed marriage from its platform. A Republican district convention in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa just did the same.
Obama is still president because he turned out his base in 2012 and the GOP did not, which is how he became just the third president in American history to be re-elected despite getting fewer popular and electoral college votes than he received in his previous run.
You would think the last thing the GOP needs at the moment is to turn its back on those pro-family voters who for decades have been its largest base of activists. Yet some in the GOP leadership believe all these Christian conservatives have suddenly been replaced by what Rand Paul calls the “Facebook generation.” Translation: 25-year old materialistic libertarians who dominate CPAC straw polls.
If that were true, how come Christian conservative champion Rick Santorum received almost twice as many votes in the 2012 primary cycle than Ron Paul? Keep in mind Santorum didn’t even qualify for the ballot in Virginia, where Paul was the only other candidate other than Romney on the GOP ballot. Not coincidentally, the 41 percent of the vote Ron Paul received there as the “not Romney” candidate is easily the most he ever received in any of his several presidential campaigns. Furthermore, Santorum won 11 states as the GOP runner-up in 2012 in a crowded field, which was just as many states as Ronald Reagan won during his legendary primary challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976.
Nevertheless, it appears the GOP elites wish to toss marriage onto a rapidly mounting scrap heap of issues and principles that once used to separate Republicans from Democrats. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean the debate is over.
After engaging in decades of political activism to preserve marriage, Focus on the Family is trying a new tact. On May 6 they will release a movie nationwide called “Irreplaceable” in an attempt to remind Americans what’s at stake if the family is lost.
I have seen an advanced screening of the movie, and it is one of the most powerful apologetics for family values I have ever seen. However, it is not a partisan movie. The movie does show the ideology behind destroying family values in America, but it’s also a movie with heart and transparency. Those involved share refreshingly honest testimonies about what a generation of family dysfunction and brokenness as done to their lives, and how returning to those cherished traditions of the past restored them.
Like that millions of other Americans, my life is an example of what “Irreplaceable” is talking about. I was born to a 15-year-old mom who chose not to abort me. I grew up in a very dysfunctional and abusive environment. I was physically and emotionally abused by my first stepfather, as was my mom. I’m a product of divorce. I grew up surrounded by casual sex and pornography, and brought that baggage with me into my own marriage. If not for the redemption and restoration “Irreplaceable” speaks of, there is little chance I’d have the wife and children I’m blessed with now.
If the Republican Party persists in divorcing its Christian conservative base, you may see that base decide that messages like the one in “Irreplaceable” are a more effective means of winning the marriage debate in the next generation than partisan activism was in the last one. Especially when those you were politicking for don’t have your back when you need them most.
(Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated talk show host and the author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)