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'If only he'd been more anti-gay...': A look at Maggie Gallagher & fellows' silly 'GOP autopsy'

by Jeremy Hooper

Maggie Gallagher is one of three co-authors of a new report that purports to "explain" why the GOP lost in 2012. The report is pretty much tone deaf (/self preservationist), particularly in the way it focused on marriage equality and its historic gains last fall.

Here's the main section dealing with marriage equality:

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 At 6.36.33 Am Opposition to Gay Marriage Did Not Drive Republican Defeat in 2012

Gay marriage is an issue on which the Republican base is united, but which is gaining favor among Democrats and some independents. Could Romney’s opposition to gay marriage have contributed to his defeat? The answer is clearly and unequivocally: no.

In November 2012, there were five state propositions on marriage in blue states. In all of them, voters were more likely to vote “no” to gay marriage than “yes” to Mitt Romney, In Maine, Obama beat Romney by 15 points, but gay marriage beat “no” to gay marriage by just five points. In deep blue Maryland, Obama crushed Romney by 25 points, but gay marriage beat “no” to gay marriage by just four points. In Washington, a secular Western state, Obama beat Romney by 15 points, but gay marriage beat “no” to gay marriage by just six points. In Minnesota, Obama beat Romney by eight points, while gay marriage beat “no” to gay marriage by just four points.

If Obama beat Romney in these blue states by a margin of between two and five times the support for gay marriage, by what reasonable political logic can Republicans blame gay marriage for Romney’s defeat?

A private, election-day poll by The Polling Company for the National Organization for Marriage found that 60 percent of voters said that they believed marriage was only one man and one woman.

But because Romney and his associated PACs had pledged to run no ads on social issues, President Obama never had to pay the price in Ohio, Virginia, or elsewhere for embracing gay marriage. He could please the Left and be confident that the GOP would not make an issue of it.

Only in North Carolina (where energized anti-gay marriage voters approved a marriage amendment in May by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent) did President Obama’s support for gay marriage visibly hurt him and help Mitt Romney.
BUILDING A WINNING GOP COALITION: The Lessons of 2012 [American Principles Project]

Okay, let's do a break down.

First, marriage equality is not just gaining favor with Democrats and Independents. While the Republican party is still the big stronghold in terms of opposition, there are clear signs of change here. Young Republicans are proudly coming out in support, with recent polling suggest that a majority of young elephant-straddlers now back marriage equality, at least at state level. Young GOP commentators are increasingly dedicating column inches and punditry minutes to voice their support. Oh, and let's not forget that three Republican U.S. Senators (Murkowski, Portman, and Kirk) also publicly support the freedom to marry. So while Gallagher and Co. might want to confine the change to just Dems and Indies, it simply isn't so. The times are a'changing within the party of Lincoln, too.

Let's move on to the claim to which the anti-gay right has been clinging since election day: That "traditional marriage" did better at the polls than Mitt Romney. What a ridiculous stat! Yes, marriage inequality picked up some Democrats and independents who voted for President Obama— but why is this a good thing for the GOP? For one, marriage equality still won. But let us also remember that President Obama was out for marriage equality (and very publicly so) during the 2012 cycle, so the fact that people who voted against the freedom to marry also voted in support of the pro-gay candidate doesn't speak to the GOP's ability to win presidential votes off the back of discrimination. It more fully speaks to the fact that even Democrats who oppose marriage equality will still vote for a presidential candidate who supports it.

The report claims that President Obama didn't "pay a price" for his pro-equality stance because the Romney campaign didn't exploit it. This is LUDICROUS. President Obama's support for marriage equality got MEGA attention. The news and commentary cycle surrounding his historic announcement was on FULL BLAST. Everyone knew where he stood. And guess what? A majority of the American public still re-elected the guy, and handily. It's very easy for Gallagher and Co. to act like an ad dedicated to blasting President Obama on this issue would have made all the difference for Romney (who, we should note, beat out several aggressively anti-gay candidates in the GOP primary). However, there is simply no credible data to back up that claim. In fact, I think that kind of ad would have only served to ratchet up the narrative that we know destroyed Romney in '12: The idea that he was trying to divide the nation between have and have-nots (47%!).

As for the North Carolina factor? That state was always in play, and Romney ultimately won it. But he won it by less than 100,000 votes—a tiny margin (50% vs. 48%). Again, it's very easy for Gallagher and Co. to claim that this was all because of the marriage vote held six months earlier, but there is no real evidence of this; it's simply convenient spin. Romney didn't run ads there exploiting President Obama's stance. There was no major attempt to focus on that state's prior marriage vote. North Carolina is a state that has historically voted for Republican presidential candidates (in every election since 1976, with the one exception of Obama '08) and this was simply another year of that changing-but-still-present truth.

Building on the false notion that more focus on discrimination would have made the difference, let's consider another factor not included in the report: The absolutely dismal performance of the National Organization For Marriage in the 2012 cycle. If there is any organization that did make marriage a top issue in 2012, it's NOM. And guess what? NOM lost every single election in which it threw its hat (or cash, as it were). If NOM backed a candidate in 2012, they were pretty much guaranteed to lose. If hyper-focusing on marriage is a path to victory, then why was NOM so damn bad at sticking the landing?

And finally, let's talk about what has happened in the near-year since the 2012 election. Marriage equality has come to three more states via legislative action (DE, RI, and MN) and one more state because of court action (NJ). And in that last state, the GOP governor did not pursue an appeal, with many believing his choice was at least partially motivated by his aspirations to run for president in three years. When looking back at an election here a full year after the fact, an analyst can't afford to take a stagnant view. You have to look to these developments and others, like the historic Supreme Court cases that only solidified marriage equality's inevitability and the now-omnipresence of same-sex marriage in everyday culture. All of these developments are happening in full view of the American public, and yet the American public continues to poll even more strongly in favor of marriage equality. There are not people raging in the streets. There is no huge backlash. And, to this reports' interests, there is no clear sign that the GOP presidential nominee in 2016 will reverse the course if he or she comes out against the loving couples who are now marrying without incident.

In short: The marriage section of this report (at least) is just plain bunk. Social conservatives want marriage and assorted "social issues" to be a winning ticket because these social conservatives have built their entire careers off of this stuff. If marriage inequality is a loser, then Maggie Gallagher has not only decreased her own viability as a commentator but she has also, quite possibly, done real and lasting damage to the political party to which she so publicly pledged her allegiance. That's not an overstatement. This marriage discrimination stuff, with its overheated support base saying such awful things about certain kinds of humans, is so nasty to so many (and particularly to so many younger people) that it could take years to shake.

If you're of the view that the truly compelling stat in American politics is the one that speaks to the rapidity of change on the issue of same-sex marriage (and I certainly am), then the far more focused question is on what, exactly, the Republican party's several-decade-long focus on things like opposition to LGBT rights will have on the party going forward. Things are not staying stagnant, and the religious right of elections bygone is giving way to a new generation. I would argue that the baggage of the past is what really threatens a party that so desperately wants to win the future.

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