No. According to Vander Plaats, that was an early warning sign of what happens when the party declares a “truce” on social issues. “You had a top of the ticket candidate in Mitt Romney who was on both sides of every issue including marriage,” said Vander Plaats. “He had a disastrous ripple effect.”
You can’t even find a national Republican who’d defend the Romney campaign. But their job is tricky: They want social conservatives to stay quiet but motivated. At his weekly briefing on Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner interrupted a reporter who started to ask whether the party’s ongoing legal action for the Defense of Marriage Act contradicted their tone shift. It was merely necessary. “In our system of government, the administration doesn’t decide what’s constitutional,” said Boehner. “The Supreme Court does.” The party would be tolerant without moving sharply left on marriage.
“I am a social conservative,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in a Friday talk with reporters at National Review’s D.C. offices. “Yes, we are still a pro-life party. Yes, we still defend our platform on marriage.” But backing off marriage, as an issue, didn’t amount to an endorsement of the Democrats’ position. “Listen to Gov. Mike Huckabee. Listen to the way Mike Huckabee talks about these issues, because I don’t know anyone who talks about them any better while staying true to principle and exhibiting the decency and tone in the way he talks about it. It would be a model for a lot of people in the party. That would be my suggestion.”
Huckabee’s actually weighed in on this stuff. In a message on his website this week, he snarked at Hillary Clinton and Rob Portman for declaring their bold new marriage views and getting praised by the media. “Before you make up your mind, ask yourself: Is it a decision you can reconcile with an objective standard of morality, like the Bible? Or are you just bending with the prevailing winds?”
That’s what Iowa Rep. Steve King wants to know. Social conservatives point to his 2012 re-election win as proof that they can win where squishes can’t. (Romney won King’s district, but the congressman did run ahead of the ticket.) He’s strongly considering a 2014 run for Senate. He’s convinced that the “evolvers” are wrong.
“Immigration, marriage—what’s next, life? The abortion issue?” he asked. “If the Republican Party decides that we can’t take positions that are clear on principle—immigration, rule of law, marriage is between a man and a woman—if we decide that we can’t maintain those positions because some people disagree, this party will fracture.* It sets up the scene by which history eventually produces a party that does reflect the values of its society. I’m thinking about the formation of the Republican Party in the first place, as an abolitionist party. It was a glorious time, to watch Republicans stand up and say: We reject slavery. And if I were advocating for the things these ‘leaders’ are, I’d go back and read up on the Whigs, and I’d reflect.”
*Correction, March 26, 2013: This article originally misquoted Rep. Steve King. He referred to Republican positions saying, "marriage is between a man and a woman," not "marriage is between the rule of law."
Read more from Slate’s coverage of gay marriage.