With Democrats still in control of the Senate and the White House, efforts to repeal healthcare reform and undo the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal by the new Republican-controlled House are likely non-starters. However, achieving progress on LGBT equal rights may be stalled, too.
Log Cabin Republican Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper says he has made significant progress in having LCR considered an “affiliate” group of the Republican Party, rather than an immoral outside special interest. A former Bush administration insider and an active duty Captain in the Army Reserves, Cooper lobbied with Republican Sen. Susan Collins and helped secure the Republican votes needed to pass the repeal of DADT. He has also met with the GOP congressional leadership and their staffs to find areas where progress on LGBT equality legislation can be made in the conservative House, such as a tax equity bill.
But Cooper’s job just became much more difficult with the election of Reince Priebus as the new chair of the Republican National Committee, the organization that recruits candidates and new members, raises money and turns out the vote for the Republican Party. Priebus, who previously had ties to the more moderate outgoing chair Michael Steele, told the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher in a candidate interview that he is a vigorous advocate for marriage between a man and a woman and would use RNC resources to help NOM push their antigay marriage cause.
Priebus’ first concern will be dealing with the Party’s $22 million debt. But perhaps equally as daunting will be the new chair’s attempt to define the identity of the Republican Party: is it the “country club” Republicans of golfer John Boehner, Speaker of the House, or is it more beholden to the new Tea Party activists – and if so, which ones?
“Reince Priebus faces many challenges in taking over the Republican National Committee, but among the trickiest will be building support from the anti-establishment tea party without offending big GOP donors or the independent voters the party needs in 2012.
The GOP’s ability to strike that balance could go a long way towards determining the outcome of Election Day 2012. And Priebus’s experience as Republican chairman in Wisconsin shows just how difficult it can be to bring along the fractious tea party – full of feuding groups and relatively new activists who abhor the philosophical compromises often necessary to build broad coalitions.
While Priebus boasted of his good relations with Wisconsin tea party groups during his campaign for RNC chairman, the leaders of those groups give his tenure mixed reviews, with some accusing him of only giving lip service to the movement while stacking the deck against its candidates, shutting them out of the process, or working to absorb them into the GOP.”
But while many people debate whether the majority of Tea Party activists are focused on the government’s fiscal house, rather than social issues such as “traditional marriage” and abortion rights for women, in his RNC candidate interview with Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser and NOM’s Maggie Gallagher, Priebus – who is credited from changing Wisconsin from purple to deep red, defeating longtime Sen. Russ Feingold and taking control of both chambers of the state legislature – promised to make social issues front and center during his term and in the run-up to the 2011 elections.
In the video interview, Priebus says that being Pro-Life is “something woven into my heart” and as a person of faith, he has an obligation to uphold those beliefs: it would be “a huge disappointment to God if I didn’t.”
Priebus promised to be “helpful to right to life and defense of marriage groups.” He said:
“Social issues are the fabric of our society and I think for us not to be involved in those issues causes us to turn our back on what I think – it’s the foundation of America and I’d be remiss not to be helpful on those endeavors and I would strive to do that as chairman of the Republican National Committee, as well.”
Gallagher refers to the more Libertarian “brothers in the GOP” who ask why get involved in marriage at all. How does Priebus respond? (About 6:30 into the video)
Priebus told Gallagher:
“Marriage is an important issue because it’s a gift from God and the sanctity of marriage ought to be protected and there are certain legal definitions that are not just legal but protected by our Constitution and they’re also protected by the sanctity of marriage given to us by God and I don’t believe that the [Full Faith and Credit Clause] in the Constitutional allows for activist judges to redefine what marriage is.
I believe that’s why a majority of states certainly believe that marriage needs to be between one man and one woman – that’s what we’ve done in Wisconsin. I was a part of that. I was helpful to make sure that happened. I was helpful to our attorney general to make sure that happened. I believe it’s important. I believe that the Defense of Marriage Act is important. And it’s something that certainly as chairman of the Republican National Committee – we ought to be committed to our platform – it is strong in that area. I think if anybody would read our platform – certainly the Republican Party has hit on all cylinders on that issue ….”
Gallagher opines that “the press seems to be unaware of our unbroken strong of victories,” noting that more than 80% of Republicans strongly support the current definition of marriage. Would Priebus as RNC chair “encourage candidates to drive a distinction [between pro and antigay marriage Republicans] as part of their package?”
“I don’t think that’s part of a policy at the RNC at all but I think individual candidates make choices on what they think is going to move voters. But personally, if it’s an issue a candidate feels strong about or it’s an issue voters want to know about – I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t state your position. You’re right – a majority of states – an overwhelming majority o states have already passed these amendments because that’s what people want.
I’m sitting here in Wisconsin and I can guarantee you that even though many times we’re a blue state – in fact, we flipped almost everything red this year. But the people here believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. We had to go through a constitutional amendment to say that even though our current law was that marriage was between a husband and a wife. But we were fighting over what a husband and wife was so we had to pass an amendment to say it was a man and a woman.
I mean these are the fights that are going on in America. I think the bigger issue here isn’t really what individual candidates want to do – I think our bigger challenge is we’ve got courts that are out of control. We’ve got judges that are legislative. We have judges in different states that wasn’t to use that full faith and credit clause to impose their will on the rest of the country and that’s what the founders of this country intended. That’s certainly not what god intended and certainly not what I individually believe and what I intend to do if I were to be elected chairman of the party.”
One wonders how LGBT Republicans will fit under the GOP’s “Big Tent” now.