In 2012, Newt Gingrich said of same-sex marriage, “It is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to … accommodate and deal with reality.”
Gingrich is by no means the first conservative to support, or at least be more accommodating, of gay Americans. Ann Coulter has been outspokenly gay-friendly for years now. Andrew Breitbart once boycotted CPAC for excluding the gay group GOProud. S.E. Cupp thinks Republicans should be making the conservative case for gay marriage. Glenn Beck not only supports gay marriage but this week denounced homophobia in no uncertain terms.
Recent polls have shown that while most conservatives still oppose gay marriage, that majority is shrinking. Among 18-29 year old conservatives, the majority already does support same-sex marriage.
But throughout conservatism’s history, there has always been a consensus about smaller government. Conservatives have long believed that the government that governs best, governs least. Conservatives have generally agreed with Ronald Reagan that government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem.
But for conservatives serious about shrinking government, the right’s focus on gay marriage has been a problem.
In 2004, conservatives should’ve been reading George W. Bush the riot act. By the time of his re-election campaign, Bush had doubled the Department of Education with No Child Left Behind, given us the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson with Medicare Plan D and grew the national debt more than his Democrat predecessor.
In every election, party leadership worries about turning out their base. If there was ever a time for limited government advocates to stay home in protest, 2004 was certainly it.
That is, until “the architect” Karl Rove found an issue that he thought would energize the GOP base: a federal ban on gay marriage.
That election also delivered, again, the most big government Republican president in American history, as Bush continued to double down on his big spending agenda right up until his final days in office.
But at least America was safe from the “threat” of gay marriage.
Former Senator Rick Santorum never became president. But in 2012 he certainly had some success during the primaries.
If Bush was America’s most big government-friendly Republican president, Santorum was one of his most avid cheerleaders. When forced to explain his vote for No Child Left Behind during the 2012 primaries, Santorum said he was just being a “team player” for Bush.
In a 2012 column titled, “What a Big Government Conservative Looks Like,” Red State’s Erick Erickson gave a scathing indictment of the former Pennsylvania senator:
“Rick Santorum is a pro-life statist. He is. You will have to deal with it. He is a big government conservative. Santorum is right on social issues, but has never let his love of social issues stand in the way of the creeping expansion of the welfare state. In fact, he has been complicit in the expansion of the welfare state.”
And yet for a time in 2012, Santorum was conservatives’ top choice for president.
Santorum was undeniably the moral values candidate in that race, something he wore on his sleeve, or sweater vest. In addition to strong opposition to same-sex marriage, in 2012 Santorum called for reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell’ and banning military chaplains from performing gay marriages on federal property.”
If you were a conservative who did not like the gays, Santorum was your man.
If you were a conservative who did not like big government, Santorum would’ve been your worst nightmare.
For the last decade, the issue of gay marriage has done more to distract conservatives from focusing on limited government than perhaps any other issue with the exception of the Iraq war.
As views on the right related to gay Americans continue to evolve and become more complex, the conservative consensus on big government should become simpler — we don’t like it.
As the country moves rapidly in the direction of accepting gay marriage, our massive debt remains and Washington’s tentacles continue to grow.
Time really is of the essence. After what the Obama administration has wrought, conservatives — and the country — literally cannot afford to be distracted again.