Did Rove's Wedge Issue Backfire Today?
We have said since last year that Bush and Rove would run on 3-4 issues this year, with a strong push on values-laden wedge issues thrown in to fire up the base and distract voters from real issues. True to form, Rove highlighted the wedge issue assault by trotting out the gay marriage ban over the last several days, anticipating that he could define the Democratic ticket as being out of step with the countryís values while locking in another divisive issue for the benefit of Bush and the GOP this fall.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the grand plan today. With Senators in his own party telling him not to put this issue to a vote and objecting to the craven use of gays as a wedge issue, Rove and Bush lost their whole issue today and may have torpedoed their values assault plan as well when six GOP Senators voted with almost all Democrats in a procedural vote against terminating debate on a constitutional amendment. Although supporters of a gay marriage ban say they will try again, and Orrin Hatch claiming ridiculously that the GOP isnít discriminating against gays, todayís vote shows that the moderate block of GOP Senators has no intention of playing along with Roveís wedge issue politics.
Less than three weeks after standing side-by-side next to Bush in support of his reelection, John McCain led the six GOP Senators against the White House today. And there were some surprises in the other GOP Senators who went against Bush today. The other GOP Senators who went against Rove and Bush today were Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), John E. Sununu (N.H.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), with Sununuís name being the most interesting. As expected, Democratic nutcase Zell (ďIím an inclusive guyĒ) Miller went along with the amendment, as did for some reason Robert Byrd and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. But the bigger setback for the White House is that they didnít get a vote today that allows them to bash Kerry/Edwards this fall, because there is bipartisan opposition to this awful ban. And as the New York Times noted, there may have been more GOP Senators who would have voted against the amendment if it had come to a vote but instead supported the GOP leadership in the effort today to shut down debate. Plus Southern Democrats who may have been expected by Bush and Rove to side with them at the expense of Kerry and Edwards did not, after Lynne Cheney herself and other conservative scholars said the amendment wasnít warranted or necessary.
The usual GOP nutcases had their say today after the vote, aside from Bush, who vowed to carry on even though todayís setback makes it certain that no additional vote will be taken before November.
"I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance, because the future of marriage hangs in the balance," said Senator Rick Santorum.
Added Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.: "For the good of civilization we must press forward."
Thatís right; to little Ricky Santorum and Jim Bunning, the most important issue facing this country is not jobs, health care, terrorism, Al Qaeda or any of the other distractions that the White House wants to ignore. No, the most important issue is the future of marriage. And rest assured that Santorum and the White House want to focus on issues that donít add one job to the country, that donít make us one bit safer from Al Qaeda, but would rather play with this issue. Ask yourself this: how much time has Santorum and the rest of the GOP Senate spent this year on this as compared to how much time they have spent on providing health care to the uninsured?
Although the right wing will smear selected Democratic Senators this fall for their vote today, it will be a hard case to make when John McCain, five other GOP Senators, and Lynne Cheney say in essence that this was nothing more than a needless wedge issue exercise. Worse yet, even some Republicans feel that the White House not only misjudged and botched this issue, but may have energized the gay and lesbian community to work that much harder for Kerry and Edwards now, while doing nothing but disappoint their GOP base.
"It's a net loss for Republicans politically," said one prominent Republican in Washington who works closely with the White House. "It does nothing for our base, because they're grumpy about not having it, and it energized a significant portion of their base. I guarantee you that the gay community will give twice as much money and work harder for Kerry now, not so much because they care about marriage per se, but because this effort plays to their fears that we're homophobic."