The U.S. Supreme Court stands in Washington, D.C., June 10, 2015. 
Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty

The culture-war pivot is harder than it looks

The Supreme Court recently handed the right some very tough defeats, but about a week ago, the New York Times reported on the silver lining for the Republican Party. Many in the GOP believe the court rulings, most notably on marriage equality, offer Republicans a chance to “pivot” away from issues on which the party is “sharply out of step with the American public.”
The piece noted some Republican strategists privately characterized the high court decisions as “nothing short of a gift from above.” All GOP officials and candidates have to do now is seize the “opening to turn the election toward economic and national security issues.”
Of course, it’s not altogether clear such a pivot would be an electoral winner for the party – the public isn’t exactly clamoring for tax breaks for millionaires and more wars – but it would at least give Republicans a better chance at success.
The trouble, of course, is that much of the party has already rejected the premise behind the pivot. The Hill reported over the weekend:
Congressional Republicans are coming under pressure to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage when they return to Washington next week.
Religious organizations aligned with the GOP are concerned the government will punish them for opposing same-sex marriage, and want lawmakers to put in place new protections for people with faith-based objections.
The groups are putting their lobbying energy behind the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would prohibit the government from retaliating against churches, schools and adoption agencies that only recognize heterosexual marriage.
The “First Amendment Defense Act” – conservatives really do excel in the bill-naming department – is not just a hypothetical. The legislation has already been introduced in both the House and Senate – the lead sponsors are Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), respectively – and it’s actually faring quite well. The House version already has 69 co-sponsors (68 Republicans and one Democrat), while the Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors (all 21 are Republicans).
Note, Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham, each of whom are running for president, are among the bill’s champions.
The Hill’s piece added, “Groups such as the Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, and National Organization for Marriage are pushing for votes on the bill, calling it a commonsense response to the high court’s ruling.”
Of course they are. Similarly, groups like these will be pushing GOP leaders on the Hill to schedule floor time, which may very well happen, after which they’ll lean on presidential candidates to announce their support for the legislation, with the expectation that skeptics will be rejected by Republican primary voters and caucus goers.
All the while, candidates will continue to debate the merits of a constitutional amendment in response to the recent ruling, such as the one endorsed by Scott Walker.
The Supreme Court’s ruling created a dynamic in which the party could have pivoted to stronger ground, but that assumes Republicans are ready to move on. They are not.