Posted by Brad @ 11:29 am on July 25th 2011

Worth Noting

Rick Perry is, I expect, going to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination soon. He will be running mostly against Mitt Romney, as a more socially conservative and Tea Party friendly alternative, and he will also play the role as the saner and more experienced but still dyed-in-the-red conservative alternative to Michelle Bachmann. He’s going to try to fulfill the Buckley maxim for Republican primary voters, of being the most electable conservative in the race, and he may well win the nomination with that strategy.

But even he, when given the opportunity to criticize New York for its recent legalization of gay marriage, takes a pass, saying “That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.” Story here.

That strikes me as something of a watershed moment, and another data point that, even among the right-wing of the Republican party, the electoral gains of flogging the “threat to marriage!” horse are seen as past the point of diminishing returns. It’s not that Perry will be a pro-same sex marriage candidate – he most certainly will not be. But he seems to be making a conscious decision to not bang on about it much, leaving it instead to the increasingly marginalized platforms of the likes of Rick Santorum. Worth noting that the guy who is running a campaign entirely predicated on being to the right of Mitt Romney, on this issue, picks this one issue to move to the left.


  1. I will be curious to see if he maintains that view down the primary line. Also, not to be pedantic, but isn’t that supposed to be “most conservative electable” rather than “most electable conservative”?

    Comment by Jack — 7/25/2011 @ 5:36 pm

  2. I’m not entirely sure. I actually googled “Buckley Rule” (or something like it) to see if I had it right, and that’s the way it came out in the first result ( We Research!) But you’re probably right; makes more sense that way.

    As to whether he maintains the view down the primary line: I highly doubt it. His audience for this comment was in Aspen, and I’d be thoroughly shocked if he doesn’t come out against same sex marriage.

    That’s not really the point though. The point is, when the question was directly posed to him – a canny Texas governor running for the “most conservative electable” in the Republican presidential primary, his first impulse was not to immediately revert to banging his shoe on the lectern and warning of donkey-fucking and tree-marrying in our nature’s future. It was to give a decided, unqualified, “meh”. I find that telling. You wouldn’t have heard that in 2004, for instance, from the same guy in the same situation.

    Comment by Brad — 7/25/2011 @ 7:14 pm

  3. The more I think about it, the more canny it seems. Playing up the state’s rights issue in 2011 is even more core values than family values for movement conservatives and tea partiers, particularly given Obamacare and immigration issues.

    The downside for him is his history, including unadulterated support for Prop 2, a pretty strong gay marriage ban that included precluding any similarly beneficial legal arrangement. This was a pretty critical campaign prep issue for Perry in 2005.

    Also, apparently there are some gay rumors that plagued Perry in the mid 2000s, just to make it extra spicy.

    Comment by Jack — 7/25/2011 @ 9:14 pm

  4. Oh yeah, and there is the Texas GOP pledge, signed by Perry:
    “The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.”

    Comment by Jack — 7/25/2011 @ 9:15 pm

  5. Again, you can’t understand this by assuming he’s going after gay voters or voters liberal on gay rights issues. He’s not – at all. He’s just making the determination that going after the ANTI-gay voters isn’t really worth his time at this point – that he’d rather give a pat dodge and move on.

    It’s sort of like Ron Paul on abortion (at least in his early 2008 campaign). He wasn’t pro-choice, by any stretch, but he chose to not explicitly chase pro-life voters and gave his socially liberal supporters enough cover to stay on board (by also reverting to the plain federalism answer). And, as in this case, it is not a DOWNSIDE that he has previously voiced support for the issue (abortion in Ron’s case, anti-gay in Perry’s). That allows him to skirt through a minimum acceptability threshold for those voters without expending any time, energy, or potential polarization on it (and, in this case, to not chase off the kinds of Republican donors that made a difference in New York, for instance).

    Same thing here. It’s not that Perry’s PRO-gay marriage – he just doesn’t view being proactively ANTI gay marriage as being particularly worth his time.

    Comment by Brad — 7/26/2011 @ 10:46 am

  6. It wasn’t a crucial aspect of his stump speech, but every time I saw Paul trying to curry favor with a right wing audience in 2008 (at the Iowa Straw Poll and elsewhere), abortion was one of his go-to issues. He played up the OB-GYN thing as part of it.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/26/2011 @ 1:08 pm

  7. Sure, he used it – just as Perry will use his previous hostility to gays to burnish his cred with those audiences.

    But when Paul was asked specifically from a policy perspective what he wanted to do on abortion (or gay marriage, for that matter), he generally defaulted to the same kind of answer, that being a wishy washy federalist dodge (later in the campaign, he switched gears a little and more actively tried to play the Definition of Life amendment thing). There’s a reason for that – he saw more use in that answer than trying to chase the hardest of hardcore pro-lifers.

    For Paul, of course, the issue was as much ideological as tactical (he gets distinctly uncomfortable when talking about policy specifics to outlaw human behaviors; weirdly, I think he’d be more comfortable amending the constitution to define life as beginning at conception than he would the litany of policies that anti-abortion advocates advocate to tighten the noose on legal abortions (parental consent, showing mothers ultrasounds, restrictive laws on everything from interstate transport to zoning regulations to tax status)).

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s mushy, but in the same way it is with Perry. He’s NOT pro-gay marriage any more than Paul is pro-choice. The point is he’s deliberately eschewing the same script that an ANTI gay-marriage candidate would normally run.

    “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”

    That is not the sort of answer you give if your primary tactical consideration is pleasing Maggie Gallagher, or being the first choice for voters whose primary concern is traditional marriage.

    It is admittedly sort of a nuanced (read wishy washy) point I’m making, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, or noteworthy.

    Comment by Brad — 7/26/2011 @ 1:41 pm

  8. To put it another way:

    I think the shift in script for your standard Republican candidate from “Same sex marriage is a mortal threat to family values and we must stop the homosexual agenda” to “I personally think marriage is between a man and a woman but it’s a state issue” is as significant as the shift in script for your standard Democratic candidate from “gay rights are important but why rock the boat? I would lean towards civil unions” to “I support gay marriage and nothing less”.

    Comment by Brad — 7/26/2011 @ 1:45 pm

  9. OK, I will buy all that, IF, and this is a big if, he actually maintains some consistancy in that line. For all I know he is simply running it up the flag pole to see if it will fly with the GOP base.

    Comment by Jack — 7/26/2011 @ 10:10 pm

  10. Well, here’s a sign. He’s not backpeddling. Instead, he’s taking that stand on social issues in general.

    Despite holding personal pro-life beliefs, Texas Gov. Rick Perry categorized abortion as a states’ rights issue today, saying that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it should be up to the states to decide the legality of the procedure.

    “You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” Perry told reporters after a bill signing in Houston. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.’”

    Comment by Brad — 7/28/2011 @ 12:11 pm

  11. Now that’s…interesting.

    Does he not support a Human Life Amendment? Because if he does, the rationale therein would seem to trump the 10th amendment; the states do not retain, under the Constitution, the right to practice infanticide.

    And if he DOESN’T support a Human Life Amendment, he’s going to catch savage hell in the primaries.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/28/2011 @ 1:03 pm

  12. Indeed. Also weird that he supports a FMA – be interesting to hear his thoughts on DOMA and the federal government recognizing – or not – duly representative state definitions of marriage, either in cases of a state allowing gay marriage or in cases of it refusing to.

    His further “clarification” on the quote I posted:

    “I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’” Perry told Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, “and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue. Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn’t changed.”

    “My comment reflects my recognition that marriage and most issues of the family have historically been decided by the people at the state and local level,” Perry added.

    Pointing to his promotion of Texas’s Defense of Marriage Act, Perry said he had governed as a traditional marriage advocate.

    He also noted that he has “long supported” the Federal Marriage Amendment.

    “That amendment … defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and it protects the states from being told otherwise. And it respects the right of the people in the state by requiring that three-quarters of the states vote to ratify. It’s really strong medicine,” Perry said.

    But, again, my point hasn’t been the strength of Perry’s position – and I also happen to think that the federalism argument is untenable as it concerns marriage definition for precisely the reason he’s going to get nailed by traditional marriage advocates on it, namely that the federal government has to take a stand one way or the other. But either way, what was worth noting was the hidden calculus behind his answer. In 2004, he’d have STARTED with his “personal view”.

    Comment by Brad — 7/28/2011 @ 3:29 pm

  13. Wait, how does he get credit for some kinda of nuanced 10th amendment principled stance when he is also explicitly supporting a Federal Marriage Amendment that would very specifically take away the right of states to decide for themselves? How is “I support the states’ rights to decide this issue” at all compatible with “I want an amendment which decides the issue for all the states?” Is it merely tortured pandering, or are we seriously thinking that he is making a heartfelt and deeply nuanced differentiation between the constitutional amendment processes infringement on states rights versus a congressional law generally resulting in the same?

    Comment by Jack — 7/28/2011 @ 6:39 pm

  14. And here I thought the seven-times-repeated caveat was overkill on my part.

    Perry doesn’t get credit for jack. You’re absolutely right, his position, as stated and restated, doesn’t sound principled at all. In fact, one could almost get the impression that Rick Perry doesn’t give much of a shit about the issue of marriage, and doesn’t really feel the need to be the biggest anti-guy on the trail, even in a situation where he is expressly trying to run as the right-er alternative to the frontrunner. That’s kind of an amazing thing, when you step back and think about it.

    Republican candidates in primary campaigns tend to avoid “nuance” at all costs on A. cases where they have a muddy record (not the case with Perry here), or B. on issues they think can kill them if they’re not appropriately strident (think immigration, torture, War on Terror, health care, debt limit, abortion, etc. etc.). Gay marriage has, I think, officially all but fallen out of that category.

    Comment by Brad — 7/28/2011 @ 10:34 pm

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