If last night’s debate revealed anything beyond the fact that, in the words of Lindsey Graham, the GOP is “batsh*t crazy” (and that Ben Carson thinks fruit salad is some type of divining instrument) it’s that the Republican Party’s “religious liberty” culture war cudgel has now officially joined the pantheon of right-wing litmus tests for the Supreme Court.
It’s an issue that’s received surprisingly little attention during the Republican primary thus far (mostly because Donald Trump has sucked all the air out of the process with his larger-than-life comments about immigration, ISIS and “winning”), but has been resurrected with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
And apparently it’s keeping radio talkshow host Hugh Hewitt up at night:
HEWITT: Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz mentioned the issue that keeps me up at night, which is religious liberty. Churches, Catholic and Christian colleges, Catholic adoption agencies — all sorts of religious institutions fear that Hobby Lobby, if it’s repealed, it was a five-four decision, they’re going to have to bend their knee and provide morning-after pills.
Will you commit to voters tonight that religious liberty will be an absolute litmus test for anyone you appoint, not just to the Supreme Court, but to all courts?
Now, as a Supreme Court decision, Hobby Lobby can’t be “repealed” (and will someone please tell Trump that judges don’t “sign bills”). Nonetheless, Trump took the “litmus test” bait and said that he’s “been there very strongly” on religious liberty, whatever that means, before pivoting to criticize Chief Justice John Roberts—and by implication Ted Cruz, who voted for his nomination.
Cruz followed up by predicting that Trump would “make a deal” on religious liberty then setting himself up as the “crazy zealot” who would protect it. Well played, Ted.
After failing to get Marco Rubio to comment directly on the danger “that religious liberty will trump even the ability of people to stay away from same-sex marriages, not provide flowers, not provide baked goods, et cetera,” Hewitt went after Kasich for saying that if a “same-sex couple approaches a cupcake maker, sell them a cupcake.”
That left it up to Kasich to school the GOP on the “slippery slope” (and, ironically, pro-business) argument regarding religious exemptions:
…what I’ve said, Hugh, is that, look, where does it end?
If you’re in the business of selling things, if you’re not going to sell to somebody you don’t agree with, OK, today I’m not going to sell to somebody who’s gay, and tomorrow maybe I won’t sell to somebody who’s divorced.
I mean, if you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce. That’s my view. And if you don’t agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope they change their behavior.
So, to tally it up:
- Kasich is pro-gay-cupcakes (with a prayer), but still pledges to protect the rights of “religious institutions”;
- Cruz is a “crazy zealot” for religious liberty;
- And Trump doesn’t really understand the nuances of the religious liberty question as it applies to the Republican primary electorate, though he’s “been there very strongly.”
Glad we cleared that up. Now I won’t be able to sleep at night.