independent voter

Tomorrow, Today

Detail of frame from Sekirei.

I should be embarrassed. Or, you know, maybe not.

Really, I thought the right wing would have taken the hint and moved on to the next front. That is to say, my prognostication somehow failed to account for just how stubborn is this conservative desperation:

There have been predictions for several years that gay-bashing by GOP presidential candidates would be dead by 2016, some of it wishful thinking by gay advocates. Back in 2012, Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, for example, commenting on the lack of discussion of gay issues in the three debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney, said, “What we’re seeing is proof positive that gay issues aren’t the wedge they used to be.” The public, he said, has “moved on.”

Fast forward to 2015: Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rick Perry have expressed blatant anti-gay positions, from banning gay scout leaders to supporting yet another marriage amendment. Some pundits believe this to be politically dangerous, certainly in a general election, and they’re right when it comes to the more overt bigotry. As I noted last week, Scott Walker clearly crossed a line — and walked back — when he said the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay adults “protected children.”

But new polling underscores that covert messaging — the dog whistle — could do the trick for the GOP, just as it has worked for the party on race and gender for decades now. Jeb Bush has defended “religious liberty” — the new code words for anti-gay positions — even while saying gay couples deserved “respect” for their relationships. And just last week, Bush said he supported the idea of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, though he thought they should be handled “state-by-state” (contrary to a comprehensive federal bill introduced by Democrats in Congress today that would protect LGBT people nationally).

But in comments that directly followed, Bush said that he believes there should be an exception for people with religious objections to allowing gays and lesbians to marry, such as a florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding. In other words, those who would discriminate in the first place should be exempt from laws banning discrimination. This will in fact be the more subtle — but no less vile and discriminatory — gay-bashing of the 2016 election.

The one and only Michelangelo Signorile recalls predictions “for several years that gay-bashing by GOP presidential candidates would be dead by 2016”, and appropriately notes at least some of it was wishful thinking. And perhaps we might simply be considering a different perspective on the question of gay-bashing, but it seems unclear just how any of that wishful thinking would have worked. We would not fault Mr. Signorile for his recollection; he isn’t wrong. But it has never been clear quite how that relief should work.

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A Bushwhacking

Detail: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. The Detroit event is the first in a series of stops that Bush's team is calling his "Right to Rise" tour. That's also the name of the political action committee he formed in December 2014 to allow him to explore a presidential run. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Jeb. All he did was participate in a time-honored tradition among political elites – giving each other awards as a celebration of shared power and influence. It probably didn’t even occur to him that by putting a medal around Hillary Clinton’s neck he was implicating himself in the most significant and far-reaching political scandal of our age.”

Simon Maloy

One might be tempted to wonder what chance Jeb Bush has if the hard right not only isn’t behind him but, actually, stands in specific opposition. And, certes, we have the example of Mitt Romney to consider. But then arises the question of just how far a hardline conservative candidate can make it in the general election; while a Clinton-Bush showdown is often spoken of as a tiresome prospect, who here really thinks enough people in enough states will be able to rationalize, even to themselves, the idea of being an “independent” or “centrist”, and give their vote to a Rubio or Paul? True, most people who call themselves “independent” are actually Republicans afraid to admit their real party identification, but the way in which they push back against that argument is to reject the hardliners.

As Simon Maloy explains:

The explanation ForAmerica offers for why this video disqualifies Jeb is that Hillary will use it to defang any attacks he might direct at her record as secretary of state. “Jeb has absolutely no credibility to criticize her because he has already anointed her as a great public servant.” Eh, perhaps? If you go and watch Hillary’s full remarks, she celebrates Jeb and the whole Bush family for sharing her love of America and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. Treating praise for the enemy as an unforgiveable political sin is problematic since part of being a politician is showing magnanimity by mechanically lauding your opponents’ patriotism and shared love of public service.

But this is Benghazi we’re talking about, and there’s nothing more important in the minds of conservative activists when it comes to Hillary Clinton and 2016. Jeb hasn’t really said a whole lot about Benghazi (at least not compared to some of his 2016 rivals) but when he has remarked on it, he’s said what conservatives want to hear – that it showed weakness, emboldened enemies, etc. If there’s danger for Jeb, it’s that he’ll come off as a squish compared to other would-be candidates like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who declares every few months or so that Benghazi disqualifies Hillary from ever holding public office again.

The reality television market sector has nothing to compare to the 2012 GOP presidential primary, and the upcoming electoral season―the Ames Straw Poll is all of six months away―would appear to be promisimg an even bigger spectacle. GOP 2016 is going to be a show of shows, and Americans who plan to travel abroad between then and the presidential election should probably spend some time rehearsing their sheepish shrugs and noncommittal answers for when our international neighbors ask them just what the hell is going on in the U.S.

Such as it is, one fun exercise in smacking our heads against desks will come in trying to comprehend how the Republican clown car steers its way back toward the political center; leading prognostications suggest the press will help by moving the center in relation to wherever the GOP troupe crashes.

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