Obama’s 'best week' leaves Republicans feeling wary

President Obama’s big win in the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage has left Republicans unsure of how to proceed. Should they fight it by way of constitutional amendment or take a live-and-let-live attitude?

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a "Celebrate the 2nd Amendment Event," Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the CrossRoads Shooting Sports in Johnston, Iowa.

Politicians and pundits talk a lot about “bipartisanship” and the need for “compromise.” But in many ways it’s a zero-sum business.

You win an election or you lose it. Your bill advances or it falters, perhaps ground up unrecognizably in the legislative sausage-maker. The Supreme Court agrees with your position or it doesn’t.

President Obama had a very good week last week. The Supreme Court (most of whose members had been appointed by Republican presidents) sided with him in two highly important cases: the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage. And as consoler-in-chief following the massacre of nine black men and women at a church in South Carolina, he gave what is likely to be seen as the best speech of his presidency, widely lauded and endlessly replayed on YouTube.

Republicans still control the US House and Senate, and their growing list of 2016 presidential candidates surely includes credible, strong, accomplished individuals. But in some ways they’re scrambling to accommodate – if not keep up with – important trends and changes in the country. And it’s not just gay marriage, which most younger Republicans have no problem with despite what their party elders say.

“Many standard-issue Republican positions, though they remain regional political assets in the South and parts of the Midwest, are underwater,” write Glenn Thrush and Kyle Cheney at Politico. “The GOP’s blanket opposition to minimum-wage hikes, a more open immigration policy, and background checks on guns and lockstep support for tough anti-abortion laws and tax breaks for the wealthy all poll relatively poorly.”

But there’s another line of thinking that sees opportunity here for Republicans – for example, that the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, in all its apparent finality, allows them to get beyond a very divisive issue.

“As important as some of these issues may be to the most conservative elements of the party’s base and in the primaries ahead, few Republican leaders want to contest the 2016 elections on social or cultural grounds, where polls suggest that they are sharply out of step with the American public,” writes Jonathan Martin in The New York Times.

“Every once in a while, we bring down the curtain on the politics of a prior era,” conservative writer David Frum told The Times. “The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues. And Republicans can say, ‘Whether you’re gay, black or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.’ ”

Is that an accurate prediction, or perhaps just wishful thinking?

Responding to the high court’s gay-marriage decision, the most mainstream among GOP presidential candidates – former Florida governor Jeb Bush – said, “Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage.” (Mr. Bush is Roman Catholic.)

But he also said: “I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.”

Not all Republicans running for president are taking such a live-and-let-live position, and at least one predicts an intraparty fight.

Speaking to supporters in Iowa Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas charged that his own party’s leaders want to divide conservative candidates (like himself) so that a centrist (like Bush) gets nominated – which, he went on, would only mean defeat at the hands of Hillary Clinton.

"The last thing the Republican leaders in Washington want to see is millions of Americans across the country mobilizing and coalescing around one strong conservative candidate," Sen. Cruz said. 

Cruz also proposes that Supreme Court justices, who are appointed for life, should have to face “periodic judicial-retention elections,” which would require an amendment to the United States Constitution.

He accuses the court of “a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and the common-sense values that have made America great.”

“During the past 50 years, the Court has condemned millions of innocent unborn children to death, banished God from our schools and public squares, extended constitutional protections to prisoners of war on foreign soil, authorized the confiscation of property from one private owner to transfer it to another, and has now required all Americans to purchase a specific product [health care insurance], and to accept the redefinition of an institution ordained by God and long predating the formation of the Court [marriage],” he wrote in the National Review.

Among fellow conservatives in Iowa, perhaps, such fighting words may play well. But among most Republican and Independent voters in the general election, that’s likely to be a nonstarter. So too is another proposal being voiced: that the US Constitution be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a declared candidate in the 2016 presidential election, said there is no chance that such a constitutional amendment could get the required two-thirds votes in the House and Senate and be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Leaving that in the GOP platform, he said, “will hurt us in 2016 because it’s a process that’s not going to bear fruit.”

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