For the better part of the past month, congressional Republicans waged a quixotic campaign to defund or otherwise roll back the Affordable Care Act through the budget process.
And, as most everyone expected, they lost.
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) took the exact opposite approach to the same-sex marriage debate in his state. Rather than continue with an appeal to a lower court’s decision legalizing gay marriage, Christie acknowledged the case was all but lost and that his administration wouldn’t pursue a lost cause in the state Supreme Court.
The decision paved the way for full legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey – which is notable in and of itself, given Christie’s potential 2016 presidential hopes.
But, perhaps as importantly, it also sets up a potentially massive contrast in governing philosophies in the 2016 race, between Christie and the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who led the Defund Obamacare effort.
Before we dive into that, though, here’s how the Christie administration explained its decision Monday.
“Chief Justice (Stuart) Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,’” the administration said, referring to the court’s rejection Friday of its request to delay gay marriages until the appeal can be argued.
The administration continued: “Although the governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law.”
Essentially, Christie is saying, ‘We’re not going to win, so why waste the time and money fighting it?’
But that’s not how most of the GOP base feels these days.
Poll after poll in recent years has shown the Republican Party is increasingly uninterested in compromise or political pragmatism. A Pew poll in January showed 55 percent of Republicans wanted principled stands rather than compromise, while just 36 percent preferred compromise.
The budget debate really drove home that point. Toward the end of the debate, more than 60 percent of self-described “very conservative” Republicans gave their party’s strategy the thumbs-up, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
That’s why congressional GOP leaders went along with the strategy for as long as they did, despite the American public’s overwhelming opposition to the Defund Obamacare movement. Their base demanded they give it a shot, and they did.
So not only is Christie allowing for the legalization of gay marriage – something 59 percent of all Republicans opposed in a March WaPo-ABC News poll – he’s also bowing to the political reality in a manner that the uncompromising Republicans base is likely to balk at.
Same-sex marriage was a non-issue in the 2012 Republican presidential primary; the only candidate who backed civil unions was Jon Huntsman, and he was never in contention.
Should Christie run in 2016, his decision to drop the gay-marriage appeal sets the stage not only for a debate about social issues, but also about broader governing philosophies and the party’s strategic path forward.