Are Republicans at War With Their Own Future?

Bobby Jindal is latest to ignore his own party's changing attitudes

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal reasserted his opposition to gay marriage in a 'New York Times' editorial. Credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was a guest contributor to the New York Times editorial page this morning. He figured this was a good place to reassert his opposition to gay marriage. Apparently non-Louisianans urgently needed the reminder.

As has become the fashion (and this is almost certainly a strategy cooked up by some high-priced, focus-group-humping consultancy inside the Beltway), Jindal carefully avoided the word "gay" when explaining his opposition to gay marriage.

Excepting the Beavis and Butthead-worthy headline, "I'm Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage" (which by custom would likely be written by someone at the Times), Jindal only used the word "gay" once in a column entirely about. . .gay marriage. For example, there was this passage about the fate of recent antigay measures in Indiana and Arkansas:

In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty. It was disappointing to see conservative leaders so hastily retreat on legislation that would simply allow for an individual or business to claim a right to free exercise of religion in a court of law.

The emphasis here is mine. Jindal describes the popular objection to efforts to curb same-sex marriage as coming from "left-wing activists." Apparently, this is the new term for "young Republicans," who support same-sex marriage nearly as much as Democrats as a whole.

Depending upon whose polls you believe, support for same-sex marriage among Republicans in the millennial age category hovers somewhere around 60 percent, lagging just 15-20 percent behind their counterparts in the Democratic Party. That makes for a significant schism within the Republican Party on the same-sex marriage issue, the key predictor clearly being age. Here's how it breaks down, according to Pew:

Ages 70 and older: Only 20 percent favor same-sex marriage.

Ages 56 to 69: 30 percent in favor

Ages 35-50: 42 percent in favor

Under 35: 58 percent in favor

The data on this issue is hilarious and tracks with the varying support levels among Republicans on a lot of other social issues, like marijuana legalization (support levels there are around 60 percent among young Republicans).

Reading between the lines, the children of older Republicans no longer agree with their nutbar parents on these key social issues. These young Republicans will probably change the party platform to reflect that split sometime in the near future.

In other words, what Jindal describes as "left-wing radicalism" is actually the future consensus belief system of his own Republican party. As Ambrose Bierce once put it, radicalism is just "the conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today."

The Republican Party is a paradox. It has enjoyed tremendous success at the local level in recent years, but that success has come at a time of historically low voter turnout. With the demographic picture changing so fast in this country and the party's own youth rapidly changing their minds on key social issues, the Republicans seemingly have a choice to make.

The first choice would be to embrace a different future right now, and start a long-term rebuild based around the changing consensus on these social issues.

The other plan would be to forestall the passage of time for a few more election cycles, and try to squeeze a few more White House runs out of the party's aging, Fox-devouring, ideologically anachronistic base.

Neither strategy offers too much long-term excitement politically. And the latter path, sticking with the increasingly off-putting views of its aging base, threatens to undercut the Republican party's financial standing, as corporate America shows reluctance to be tied to politically unpopular causes.

Jindal's column today cleverly proposes a third path, an elaborate "grand bargain" that could save the party from this confounding political dilemma.

First, he wipes away the whole problem of the party's unpopular bigotry against gays through that simple semantic trick of calling it a religious liberty issue.

Then he ties "religious liberty" to economic freedom, and essentially argues that the American business world should campaign against gay rights out of – get this – self-interest:

The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two.

This is a classic use of Woody Allen's "All men are Socrates" syllogism. All left-wing ideologues want to tax and regulate business out of existence; all left wing ideologues also want to make gay marriage legal; therefore, legalizing gay marriage will result in the end of free enterprise.

Are you confused yet? Jindal is basically saying that corporate America should oppose gay marriage because the people who support it are the same people who favor regulation and other allegedly antibusiness policies.

Forget that gay marriage is mostly uncontroversial for anyone born after disco, and that young Republicans also support it in massive numbers: the seemingly separate issues of gay rights and financial deregulation, Jindal says, are actually "one fight" that will require the business world to enter into a "grand bargain":

Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it's not freedom for all, it's not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom's defense possible.

In other words, business leaders, if you don't want to be regulated out of existence by our opponents, you must stick with us batty conservatives on social issues, and indulge our total unwillingness to grow the hell up and move into the 21st century. Instead of change, that's Bobby Jindal's solution to the problem of his party's unpopular social stances.

Every now and then, political parties fall into traps of their own devising. It happened in 2004 to the Democrats, who in fear of looking weak to undecideds purged their antiwar candidates in the primaries, and then watched as a deflated party base served up the uninspiring John Kerry to be slaughtered in the general election.

In this cycle, the Republicans are caught between their future and their past on issues like gay marriage. They've been relying on religious conservatives to get numbers for so long that they won't know how to cut the cord when the time comes, and the numbers say that time will have to come fairly soon, if the party wants to stay viable nationally with young people. Who knows, maybe they'll figure it out by 2016. But it doesn't look like it.