RNC Chair Hopefuls Defend “Traditional Marriage”

It’s painful to watch politicians shamelessly pandering to their base — but it’s even more painful to watch candidates, who know on some level that the issues their base defends are going the way of the dinosaurs, try to couch their pandering by talking about “dignity” and “love.”

That’s why watching the four candidates for chairman of the Republican National Committee answer a red meat question on marriage equality was so painful. The two favorites for the job, current chairman Michael Steele and Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, knew they were supposed to toe the line on the marriage question, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to full-on gay bashing.

During a debate among the chairman candidates, Steele — without mentioning religion at all — said that marriage is “foundational to who we are as a nation, how we define ourselves as people.”

He continued:

“The idea of the man and woman joined together to create family is as old as time and we as a nation are tied inextricably to that, not to the exclusion of others not to the exclusion of others, not to diminish anyone’s individuality, but to say in a very supportive way that the family unit, the family concept, is an ideal that we aspire to.”

Priebus also was careful to not speak directly of religion, and even tried to show sympathy to single parents, after affirming that children should have a mother and a father “if possible.” Then, without mentioning gays, even, tried to soften his anti-gay stance by saying: “I don’t believe anybody should be denied dignity in this discussion, everyone should be loved. But at the end of the day, I believe that marriage — through the sanctity of marriage — should be between one man and one woman.”

No, why deny someone the dignity when you can deny them basic civil rights instead? I feel better already.

Former Missouri Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner was the first to mention God — in reference to taking marriage vows before the deity.

Saul Anuzis, former Michigan Republican Party Chair called marriage “a religious and a cultural institution worth protecting and worth fighting for.”

The stakes are especially high for Steele, who has had a rough ride as the head of the RNC. He spent much of his time during the debate trying to bridge the divide between Republicans and other minorities including Hispanics and African Americans.

“When we stopped talking to our friends in the Latino community and the African American community, and when we stopped engaging with individuals and we make assumptions about, ‘Well, they don’t vote for us anyway,’ that’s when we really start to lose. And going forward, we will lose big if we lose sight of the fact that America is not the America of the 1950s or 1960 or even the 1990s. It is a very different day.”

That’s nice sentiment from Steele, but the RNC chairman is really Fundraiser-in-Chief and as much as he might like to reach out to traditional Republican punching bags like Latinos, African Americans, and gays — they aren’t the ones giving up the big checks. It’s still the old guard — the religious right and those who use them — who continue to fill the RNC coffers. Steele can look conciliatory for the cameras, but when the rubber hits the road, the same old GOP minority bashing must begin.

Both Steele and Priebus, however, seem to be hesitant to toss pure red meat to the base. Perhaps they’re paying attention to polls showing a growing acceptance of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, despite the minority of states that recognize marriage equality (five plus the District of Columbia). That recognition, though, of “a very different day” may cost them the chairmanship, proving that the Republicans are still solidly in the grip of the religious right.