UPDATE: I had no idea while I was writing this post that Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania had decided to switch to the Democratic Party—yet another sign that moderates have no place in the GOP.
The day the Iowa Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in Varnum v Brien, noneed4thneed wrote on his Twitter feed,
All chances for moderate Republicans to get elected in Iowa were dashed today. Social conservatives run Republican Party of Iowa now.
Now that the 2009 legislative session has ended with no action to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court, and same-sex marriages are a reality, I am even more convinced that noneed4thneed is right.
A few thoughts on the Republican Party’s internal conflicts are after the jump.
Mike Glover of the AP published a piece yesterday assessing the impact of marriage equality on the 2010 elections. Bob Vander Plaats, who is so far the only declared candidate in the race against Governor Chet Culver, promised that gay marriage will be a "major issue" next year. But Doug Gross, who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Tom Vilsack, warned
“For Republicans to win, they need to have a broad agenda […] That issue is not a negative one for Republicans, but if Republicans let this be the only thing they talk about, they won’t be successful in 2010.”
Gross has been saying since November that Republican candidates need to broaden their appeal beyond social issues if they want to start winning statewide elections in Iowa. Pro-choice moderate Joy Corning, a former lieutenant governor, has also spoken out for Republicans who
are defined by principles that have been our foundation since the time of Lincoln – limited government, strong defense, fiscal responsibility, self-determination and opportunity. We are not defined by a National Right to Life survey.
What little chance Gross and Corning had to reorient the Republican Party seems to have evaporated now. Iowa Conservatives are angry that Republicans didn’t pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage when they controlled the Iowa legislature. They are angry that Iowa GOP leaders have not been more vocal during the past few weeks about overturning the Supreme Court ruling. They are angry that Senator Chuck Grassley has not endorsed amending the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriage. They are angry that Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley did not (in their view) do enough to fight marriage equality in the past few weeks. At least one national anti-gay group is capitalizing on this resentment by circulating its own attacks on McKinley.
Conservative anger is not limited to Iowa; Politico’s Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin reported this week on the “rebellion brewing” within the Republican base across the country. Here’s the excerpt that covers Iowa:
Rep. Steve King, an outspoken conservative who represents all of rock-ribbed western Iowa and may run for governor next year, said he had held 11 town hall meetings across the state since the early April state Supreme Court decision.
“Of those 11 meetings, 10 of them were full. Most of them were standing room. The marriage issue was the No. 1 issue on their minds. No. 2 was the massive federal spending taking place. In every discussion, immigration came up.”
And these Iowans, King noted, “stand in the same square they always have: They believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and they’re opposed to amnesty.”
“My e-mail overfloweth,” said David Overholtzer, a longtime GOP activist in western Iowa’s Pottawattamie County. “Amnesty is still very much a hot-button and gay marriage especially is here in Iowa. The view is that we’ve got to hold our legislators’ and governors’ feet to the fire.”
“I’ve never seen the grass-roots quite as motivated, concerned and angry,” said Steve Scheffler, the head of the Iowa Christian Alliance and the state’s RNC committeeman.
The marriage issue and other traditional conservative litmus tests aren’t likely to fade before the state’s next presidential caucuses, either.
Asked about how a presidential candidate urging the party toward the middle on cultural issues would fare, Scheffler said flatly: “They’re not gonna go anywhere.”
I doubt Steve King will give up his safe seat in Congress to run against Culver, who is not looking particularly endangered in my opinion. But even if King does not run, he may help shape the GOP gubernatorial primary contest if he keeps stoking activists’ anger about gay marriage and other social issues. Conservative talk radio host Steve Deace will keep beating this drum as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Republicans replace national GOP chairman Michael Steele before too long. Steele was elected on a pledge to make the party a big tent that could compete in all parts of the country, but many conservatives strongly opposed him, including Iowa’s members on the Republican National Committee. The Republican candidate’s failure in the recent special election in New York’s 20th Congressional district may become a pretext for the RNC to dump Steele.
Having grown up with a Rockefeller Republican, I am sorry that the GOP no long welcomes people like my father. As a partisan Democrat, however, I couldn’t be happier to see angry conservatives wanting to make their issues the centerpiece of next year’s campaign.
Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.