Last week, former Utah governor and failed Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman published a piece in The American Conservative, arguing that it's time for the right to embrace marriage equality. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love," Huntsman wrote, adding, "The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans."
Any chance we might see other national Republican voices move in a similar direction? As we were reminded on "Meet the Press" yesterday, it's going to be a slow process.
For those who can't watch clips online, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who appears to have national ambitions, explained his vision of a renewed Republican Party, "which is about growth, not austerity, it's not being the party of big government, big Wall Street, big banks." Host David Gregory responded with a good question: "Jon Huntsman says that it's truly conservative to allow gays and lesbians to marry. Is that a change you could support?"
The Louisiana Republican replied, "Look, I -- I believe in the traditional definition of marriage." Jindal then promptly changed the subject, arguing that his party can win on economic issues.
It's a dubious argument -- most of the public rejects Jindal's economic ideas, too -- but how (and whether) Republicans adapt to changing attitudes on the culture war may be more relevant electorally than Jindal is prepared to admit.
About a week ago, Robert Draper published a fascinating item on the possible "obsolescence" of Republicans in the near future, and while the thesis was fairly broad, the fact that so much of the GOP establishment still believes the government should, in some cases, stop two consenting adults from getting married is severely limiting the party's fortunes, most notably among younger voters.
Of particular interest was a focus group of young Ohio men, conducted last month, and led by Kristen Soltis Anderson, a 28-year-old Republican pollster. During the session, she discovered a group of voters who weren't necessarily enthralled with President Obama, but who used negative words -- "racist," "out of touch" "hateful" -- to describe the GOP. She asked the young men, "What could [Republicans] say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?"
"Be more pro-science," said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. "Embrace technology and change."
"Stick to your strong suit," advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. "Clearly social issues aren't your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that's already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost."
Later that evening at a hotel bar, Anderson pored over her notes. She seemed morbidly entranced, like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.'s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as "open-minded" and Republicans as "rigid."
"There is a brand," the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. "And it's that we're not in the 21st century."
The longer Jindal and his allies fight against marriage equality, the more this problem will persist.