That the political winds are pushing Republicans is obvious not only to the Fox News-glued set. UVA politics professor larry sabato calls it the sixth-year itch; a second-term president, a lame-duck from the moment he is re-elected, historically struggles in his second midterm elections, and his party often has a hard time regaining momentum heading into the next presidential cycle.
We’re seeing that in the 2014 midterms, which look to be the GOP’s to lose, with Republicans looking to gain seats in the House and also take over the majority in the Senate.
The Senate takeover that is likely just a few weeks away may prove to be the beginning of the undoing of the Republicans’ chances to win the big prize in 2016, and the reason why is something that happened this week.
The conservative-majority Supreme Court punted on gay marriage, refusing to grant certiorari to appeals of lower-court rulings that overturned several state marriage bans, effectively legalizing gay marriage in 30 states and opening the door to more in the way of the pitched political battles that actually worked to the GOP’s favor in the ‘Aughts.
Remember the Karl Rove strategy in 2004, to get marriage bans on state ballots alongside George W. Bush’s re-election effort, the aim being to ensure that social conservatives went out to the polls, whatever their ambivalence about W. may have been? Worked out well then, not so much in 2006, where George Allen ran for re-election to the Senate alongside a marriage ban that passed with close to 60 percent of the vote, but Allen was upset by Democrat Jim Webb.
Fast forward a few years, and public-opinion surveys have support for gay marriage close to 60 percent, and that number is only going to go up as the age cohort that opposes gay marriage is literally dying every day.
How this affects Republicans heading into 2016 is obvious. The party is still beholden to its Tea Party wing, which represents maybe 20 percent of the voter base overall, but controls the GOP nomination process with an iron fist. And with the party set to take control of the Senate, the House already in tow, Republicans are not going to be able to contain themselves from doing all manner of stupid things the next two years to try to kneecap Barack Obama specifically and Democrats generally with an eye on getting the keys back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Obama is an easy, though straw-man, target; he is never again to be on a ballot, and the Democrats are poised to run Hillary Clinton, their best version of the anti-Obama, in 2016. The pivot from Obama to Clinton is surely to come, but it might just get lost in the glare of the anticipated push by Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies to push back on this week’s gay marriage decision, as Cruz has already made clear is a key focal point for his next two years, in addition to running for president
Cruz has the makings of being the Republican answer to George McGovern nationally, but he holds a lot of sway, probably way, way too much sway, in the Republican Party, and if he holds true on his threat to make gay marriage a key part of the 2015-2016 Senate agenda, he’s going to drag the GOP with him on the wrong side of history.
It was easy to play politics with civil rights bigotry in the ‘Aughts, and even then Republicans went to the well once too often, as the 2006 midterms, which saw Democrats take back control of both houses in Congress, made clear. Now with public opinion clearly on the side not only of doing what’s right in the LGBT equal rights arena, but also beyond ready to move on to other issues with this one in the rearview, any effort to advance the interests of the knuckledraggers on Capitol Hill is only going to benefit Democrats, who otherwise are reeling from the butt-whuppin’ that is to come next month and the two years to follow with an investigation-happy GOP Hill baring its teeth at all opportunities.
Democrats would be best advised to just sit back and let them hack each other to death.
And that’s how the White House will be won, lost, whatever, depending on your rooting interests.
– Column by Chris Graham