It is almost universally agreed by pundits and political observers alike that Mitt Romney has locked up the nomination to be the Republican presidential candidate facing President Obama in 2012. The beltway common wisdom (an oxymoron if there ever was one) is that while the GOP nomination fight may drag on because of egos and dissatisfaction from ultra-conservatives, it is pretty much a done deal, with the campaigns just going through the motions. So why should anyone, especially those of us concerned with LGBT equality and progressive issues, even pay attention to the bickering clown car that the primary has become?
The GOP primary matters because this fight has a lasting effect on politics by giving a spotlight to arch-conservatives with their far out-of-the-mainstream views and by driving Romney (or whoever the eventual nominee is) further into the socially conservative wasteland.
The GOP primary process has long been a vehicle for propelling fringe social conservatives to new heights of fame and influence. Crazy televangelist Pat Robertson, who has said everything from gays caused Hurricane Katrina to praying for the death of liberal leaning Supreme Court Justices, finished high in the Iowa caucuses. The spotlight made him an even stronger leader of the so-called "moral majority" movement and an evangelical kingmaker. Pat Buchanan was pushed to prominence with his anti-gay, anti-women, anti-minority speeches in Iowa and at the Republican convention, leading to a gig as a pundit on MSNBC who for years spewed his vile, bigoted views. Perhaps most telling of all is staunch social conservative Mike Huckabee, a little known governor, who after winning the Iowa caucus became a right-wing darling and host of his own influential Fox News show.
In the current primary season, we saw the process push Michelle Bachmann, who has always been seen as a Tea Party fringe figure with politically toxic views, into the spotlight for a short surge. This gave her a bigger platform to attack the LGBT community with talk of "ex-gay conversion therapy" and spreading her dangerous rhetoric of fringe social conservatism into the mainstream of America. We now also see the GOP primary giving Rick Santorum, and his well known bigoted views of LGBT people, new political life. Santorum is beyond simply being "conservative." He has compared gay people to pedophiles, polygamists, and even "man on dog" sex. With the spotlight the GOP primary process continues to give him, he is reaching wider audiences with his incendiary and offensive views against LGBT equality. We shouldn't be surprised to see either radical bigot with a new show on Fox News sometime soon, giving them a greater position of power and influence to spout their insanity.
But perhaps the most insidious effect of the GOP primary, and why we should all be paying close attention to it, is the inevitable push of the eventual nominee further right to even more socially conservative extremes. We've already seen Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee, lurch further right than ever (although to be fair, nailing down just a single view from the mercurial Romney on any issue is nearly impossible). Romney, out of the necessity to combat the "moderate Massachusetts Governor" attacks from his GOP rivals, has been driven to the fringe of anti-gay conservatism. He supports reinstitution of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", has vowed to defend the odious "Defense of Marriage Act" from court challenges, and even questioned the rights of gay people to adopt. Romney has also recently been touting his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage as "one man and one woman" in the U.S. constitution while campaigning in South Carolina, a truly radical view even among conservatives.
All of these views are opposed by a vast majority of Americans of all political stripes. They will surely come to haunt him once he makes it to the general election against President Obama, whose views are diametrically opposed to Romney's fringe ideas on equality. Romney may well try to move back to more moderate positions during the general election, knowing that the conservative corner he has been painted into will turn off many voters. Yet that is why we must pay attention to what is happening now.
We can't allow the hateful rhetoric and the pandering, socially-backwards ideas of the GOP primary to go unchallenged or to be forgotten. This ugly spotlight on the ever-shrinking fringe with bigoted views about LGBT equality is something that we need to confront, call out, and remember as those in our lives head to the ballot box in November. While that spotlight can propel anti-gay politicians to new heights of prominence in the conservative movement, it can also be used to show how out of touch they are with the rest of the country, forever tarring them with their own bigoted views.
Image of Mitt Romney from Wikipedia.org