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The GOP's fear of 'going wobbly' on marriage equality

Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up and see the fastest flip-flop in human history! 

Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up and see the fastest flip-flop in human history!

Ohio Gov. John Kasich took a big step for gay rights on Wednesday, when he endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples during an interview with NewsChannel 5--no small matter, coming from the governor of a state whose constitution bans both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Thursday, Kasich backtracked.  "He may have used the term 'civil union' loosely in this instance," Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed. "The governor's position is unchanged. He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio's constitution to allow for civil unions."

Kasich’s reversal may reflect something more than just personal indecisiveness.  “It’s unfortunate when somebody won’t stand up and fight for their principles, which appears to be the case on some level with the governor,” said New York One’s Errol Louis on Hardball Friday. “More important, though, is the party and the conservative forces that maybe made him backtrack, because it’s the governors who are sort of the secret weapon of the Republican party, if they ever want to get back into national power.”

Louis explained that governors are politically valuable because they have to work across the aisle and deal with practical issues. But as Hardball host Chris Matthews noted on Friday, practicality won’t get you very far with this GOP.

Here’s another example. On Monday morning, at a press conference to review the RNC's 2012 "autopsy," chairman Reince Priebus had some kind words for Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

“I think Senator Portman made some inroads last week, but I think it’s about being decent,” said Priebus in response to a question about attracting gay and women voters to the party. “No one deserves to have their dignity diminished... People don’t deserve to feel disrespected.”

That sounds pretty reasonable. But later that same day, in a National Review article headlined, “Social Conservatives to RNC: Don't be 'Pandering Idiots,'" Ralph Reed cautioned against any softening on gay rights, saying, "If the Republican party tries to retreat from being a pro-marriage, pro-family party, the big tent is going to become a pup tent very fast... I am concerned that some in the party are going wobbly on this issue."

The threat worked; by mid-week Priebus was back toeing the party line. “I know what our principles are, I know our party believes marriage is between one man and one woman,” said the chairman on msnbc Wednesday. But, he added, “I also know our party’s going to be inclusive, and it’s going to listen to people, and it’s going to allow for differences in our party.”

What Priebus fails to see, said msnbc contributor Ron Reagan on Hardball Friday, is the difference between “principle,” and “preference.” Marriage between a man and woman? That’s a preference, he said. Equality under the law--principle. “Mr. Priebus and the Republican party appear to be prepared to throw ‘equality under the law’ under the bus in order to pander to people who are bigoted,” said Reagan. “I don’t think that’s a recipe for success in the future.”