With her recent signing of the religiously extreme Family Leader pledge and with his involvement in a huge upcoming prayer meeting sponsored by the hatemongering American Family Association, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have taken the lead among Republican candidates who are apparently determined to keep Obama in the White House for another 4 years.
At a time when their party has a potential easy win in 2012 by just focusing on jobs, the economy and governmental reform, Perry and Bachmann are taking the lead in focusing their campaigns on divisive social issues which are guaranteed to lose them the general election by a wide margin. With both of them polling in the top three, their poor decisions may hurt the party as a whole when it comes to winning in 2012.
What Bachmann’s pledge and Perry’s friends at the American Family Association have in common is a rabid hatred of homosexuality and a desire to make opposition to gay marriage the top agenda item for the Republican Party. Perry and Bachmann have decided to play to a hardcore religious voter base who at most make up a quarter of the population, while at the same time alienating the independent voters they need to win over if they want to run a successful campaign for the presidency. They aren’t alone in this. Pawlenty and Santorum also pander to the religious right, but they are no longer significan players in this primary.
Right now marriage equality is at its highest level of popularity ever, with a series of recent polls suggesting a rapid trend towards higher acceptance. In fact, a projection indicates that by the time of the November election in 2012 the general voting population will likely favor gay marriage by a margin of 56% to 40%, creating a difficult situation for any candidate closely associated with anti-gay groups and beliefs. In the latest CNN poll independents already support gay marriage at 55% and the general belief is that Republicans cannot win a national election without a substantial share of the independent voters.
Perhaps even more significant is the trend towards support for civil unions, which is a good indicator of how much of the population generally opposes an aggressive anti-gay agenda. Recent polls show that over 70% of the population supports civil unions or gay marriage, while even 63% of Republican voters support some form of legal recognition for gay couples. In that kind of environment making anti-gay activism a front burner issue in the presidential campaign seems extraordinarily unwise.
The problem with having two potential major contenders in the Republican primary field taking this positiojn in the primary is that it will be remembered by voters as a dominant party position when it comes to the general election and hurt whoever the eventual nominee is, or at least force them to deal with the issue, putting them in a difficult situation which is bound to hurt their election chances. The fallout will ultimately be fewer votes for the Republican candidates in November of 2012.
You can try to dismiss this as primary season pandering designed to get hardcore religious right voters on board to win nomination, but the truth is that the connections between both Bachmann and Perry and anti-gay groups and activities go back for years. Bachmann’s husband makes his living running a “clinic” which basically tries to pray the gay out of people and Perry has been in bed with Eagle Forum and other extreme anti-gay groups since he was elected Governor, carrying on a personal crusade to “purify” the boy scouts and recriminalize sodomy in Texas.
Make no mistake, the issue here is not religion or faith or their role in our personal lives. The issue is bigotry. The American Family Association spends most of its time boycotting companies for offering same-sex couples health benefits or attacking media companies for showing alternatie lifestyles in a positive light. Similarly, the defining characteristic of the pledge signed by Bachmann is that more time is spent in it condemning homosexuality than addressing any other issue.
Catering to religious extremists is so obviously unwise in this kind of a campaign year that it clearly represents the personal beliefs of these candidates, because their advisers have to be telling them what a bad idea this is. Other candidates seem to understand this. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney were both openly critical of the Family Leader pledge and went beyond just not signing it to condemning the content and the idea of it. None of the other candidates have joined Perry in supporting the American Family Association’s bizarre event in Houston.
For the good of the nation the Republican Party needs to win the White House in 2012. It ought to be easy to do by just running on restoring the economy and getting government off peoples backs. But if the leading candidates go down a bizarre religious side road it may be time to look for wiser candidates who will run on more relevant issues and not throw the election away on an unpopular personal crusade.