Richard Land, the firebrand evangelical leader who wrote the famous letter urging Christians to support George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, summed up the view of many on the right tier of the Republican presidential field. “It’s a sad day for the country and now the battlefield shifts to freedom of conscience,” he told POLITICO. “It’s going to be an important issue in 2016.”
It’s also a matter of old-fashioned wedge politics, and Democrats are delighted at the growing roster of issues pulling the GOP backward through time. Last week, Southern Republicans were stunned by the wave of public, bipartisan sentiment against state-sanctioned displays of the Confederate flag in the wake of the Charleston massacre. After a stumbling start, local Republicans acted with deliberate speed, and not just in South Carolina: Alabama’s Robert Bentley, one of the country’s most conservative governors, ordered the rebel battle flag lowered over the capitol in Montgomery, where the civil war was declared and George Wallace delivered his “segregation forever” speech.”
Still, many standard-issue Republican positions, though they remain regional political assets in the South and parts of the Midwest, are underwater: The GOP’s blanket opposition to minimum-wage hikes, a more open immigration policy, and background checks on guns and lockstep support for tough anti-abortion laws and tax breaks for the wealthy all poll relatively poorly.
“The problem for the Republican Party is that you have a recalcitrant minority trying to hold off a tolerant majority,” says David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute.
Mike Huckabee, a long-shot Arkansas ex-governor staking everything on an appeal to evangelicals, made an opaque reference to civil disobedience. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” he said in a statement as gay and lesbian couples were posting their plans to wed on thousands of Facebook pages. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”