Maybe the anti-gay right’s plan to boycott the Conservative Political Action Conference is an isolated squabble. No big deal, says Dave Weigel. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’ll agree with Jennifer Rubin: this is a fairly big deal, a sign of what life will be like for the right now that homosexuality is a wedge issue among Republicans.
In October of 2009, a group of social conservatives issued something they called the Manhattan Declaration: a not-very-veiled threat to split the conservative movement if it tried to soft-pedal abortion and gay marriage. Just weeks later, a gay Republican group called GOProud showed up at CPAC, causing a rupture between libertarians and social conservatives. Meanwhile, the Tea Party movement was entering conservative politics as a major disruptive force on the libertarian side. Though socially conservative in their views, Tea Partiers want to put economic issues first and see social issues as divisive distractions.
So now GOProud is back for Round Two, and a cluster of social-cons, including the Family Research Council and the National Organization for [read: Against Gay] Marriage, have drawn what they call a “line in the sand” against participating in CPAC if GOProud is there, which it will be.
Weigel and others are right to say that these tiffs are not uncommon on the right (or, for that matter, on the left). But it’s not the particular tiff that’s important here. Here’s the problem: conservatives’ hostility to homosexuality isolates them politically from the rest of the public, and the anti-gay consensus is fracturing even on the right (44 percent of Republicans say homosexuality should be accepted by society).
Translation: an issue which once divided and dispirited the Democratic coalition while uniting and energizing conservatives now cuts the other way. It’s a wedge issue against the right. Not just temporarily, either.
That’s why, despite my prediction (never have I been happier to be wrong!), Republicans couldn’t hold ranks last month over the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s why the House GOP will make its stand in 2011 not on social issues but on spending cuts, which may not enjoy broad public support but which do, at least, unite rather than divide conservatives.
And it’s why the latest GOProud/CPAC tiff is not just a bad moment in a happy marriage. The anti-gay right is losing its grip, but it won’t surrender without a fight, and the fight it promised in the Manhattan Declaration is under way.