Nuptial Narratives
06-04-2009
A journalist asked me whether the adoption of gay marriage in New Hampshire will have any significant impact on the nature of the campaign discourse in our 2012 presidential primary. This is actually a pretty interesting question for engaging in some speculation.
 
On the Republican side, the short answer is no, probably not. Republican candidates are already pretty well-trained by their advisors to downplay any socially conservative rhetoric the moment they cross over our borders. I still remember the transformation that Mike Huckabee underwent as he moved from his victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucus to campaigning in New Hampshire on the eve of our primary.  Gone almost completely was the language of religious conservatism which had propelled him to victory in Iowa. It was instead replaced by a new political narrative touting fiscal responsibility and economic populism.
 
With our libertarian tradition, open primary rules, and large number of independents, Republican candidates have never had the incentive to rally the base here with social issues the way they do in other states. Now that gay marriage is no longer an open question in the Granite State, they will have even less incentive to do so in three years. This doesn’t mean Republicans won’t stake out an oppositional position to gay marriage when asked, but you can bet they will spend most of their time talking about other economic and national security issues (plus health care, energy, and the environment), as they have largely done in the past.
 
On the Democratic side, let’s assume for sake of argument that we are looking at President Obama running for his second term. Perhaps he won’t be put on the spot by progressives in deference to his standing as an electoral winner and titular head of the party, but it is true that his position on gay marriage is now officially to the right of both the law and majority opinion in New Hampshire.
 
If you caught Brian Williams’ interview with the president last night, you’ll know that Obama’s position is still the default one I discussed in a recent post – pro-civil union, but anti-gay marriage. Obama may be able to balance any potential intra-party dissonance on the gay marriage issue with some new action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and/or the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level, but he hasn’t moved in that direction yet. So if the gay marriage issue comes up for the president in New Hampshire the next time around, it could be an intriguing conversation.


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