The papers are filled with articles gaming out whether Obama’s big announcement yesterday puts him at political risk, but the other question is this: Will it force Mitt Romney on to a culture war footing when he’d rather be talking about the economy?
Check out this interview with a Colorado affiliate, in which Romney testily snapped at the reporter: “Aren’t there issues of significance you’d like to talk about? The economy? The growth of jobs?”
The question that set Romney off was about medical marijuana, but it came after a long discussion about gay marriage that seemed to leave Romney increasingly irked. As even righty blogger Allahpundit points out, the exchange shows that Romney just doesn’t want to talk about the issue or any other social issues.
But guess who does want to talk about gay marriage, and even make it central to the campaign? The National Organization for Marriage:
“President Obama has now made the definition of marriage a defining issue in the presidential contest, especially in swing states like Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Nevada,” said Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.
Obviously the economy will still be the driving issue in this campaign, but social conservatives are going to try to make gay marriage a “defining” one, as NOM puts it, and it will be interesting to see how Romney handles it. Obama’s embrace of full equality yesterday sets the stage for a very sharp contrast between the presidential candidates on one of the most important civil rights issues of our time, one that could play into Dem efforts to paint Romney and the GOP as hidebound, trapped in the past, and hostage to extreme elements.
This really is a defining issue for young voters, and Obama really needs to boost enthusiasm among them as he tries to reassemble his 2008 coalition. And as Ron Brownstein notes in a great piece, Obama’s forward-looking announcement could also appeal to socially liberal upscale whites, who may make the two men’s visions of the future central to their decision and are increasingly important to Obama and Dems as they look to offset losses among the white working class. On the other hand, the issue could also galvanize social conservatives who are suspcious of Romney.
It’s going to be very interesting to find out whether embracing full equality for gay and lesbian Americans is really the big political risk for Obama many seem to say it is. The country has moved foward on the issue in a big way since 2004, when Karl Rove successfully used it to boost evangelical turnout in key swing states. My bet is that this time, it will be a wash at best.
* What if this is riskier for Romney than for Obama? Noam Scheiber is thinking along the same lines.
While swing voters may be ambivalent about gay marriage itself, they’re much less comfortable with displays of intolerance....Romney now faces enormous pressure to amplify his position. Conservatives will ask about it constantly. They will insist on highlighting it in the party platform and at this summer’s convention. Rote box-checking of the sort he’s practiced so far will no longer suffice.
* Romney’s prep school days come under scrutiny: My Post colleague Jason Horowitz has the goods on a story that will drive much discussion today: Romney and his school buddies bullied a boy, John Lauber, with bleached-blond hair who had been relentlessly teased for presumed homosexuality...
As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
* Obama hits Romney with “Etch-A-Sketch”: During the ABC News interview, Obama had this to say about Romney’s claim that he deserves credit for the auto industry’s recovery:
I think this is one of his Etch-a-Sketch moments. I don’t think anybody takes that seriously. People remember his position, which was, “Let’s let Detroit go bankrupt” and his opposition to government involvement in making sure that GM and Chrysler didn’t go under.
This suggests Obama himself will be using the Etch-A-Sketch image to define Romney, mockingly, throughout the campaign. As for the substance of this, no amount of obfuscation can change the fact that Romney opposed the government loans that bailed out the industry — which goes right to the heart of the ideological argument over government that will drive this campaign.
* Why Obama got this one right, regardless of “states” argument: Some have complained that Obama’s announcement was diluted by his position that gay marriage should be up to the states to decide, but Glenn Greenwald explains why that’s an unimportant objection:
Obama today — said that he believes same-sex couples should be able to legally marry. That’s marriage equality...ultimately, this issue is likely to be democratically decided on a state-by-state basis, and either way, since Obama isn’t on the Supreme Court, his view on the constitutionality of opposite-sex-only marriage laws is far less significant than his view on whether marriage laws should include same-sex couples.
* Ric Grenell weighs in: Romney’s openly-gay former adviser speaks out: “President Obama’s decision to personally support gay marriage means he will be on the right side of history.”
While Grenell also suggested the timing of Obama’s announcement could be political, the Romney campaign conspicuously failed to defend him when he was being attacked for being gay.
* Romney determined to avoid gay marriage: Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake report that the Romney team knows that getting drawn into an extended discussion of gay marriage is a trap. The question is whether he can avoid it.
* Keep an eye on the Ohio Senate race: Quinnipiac finds that Senator Sherrod Brown’s lead over GOP challenger Josh Mandel has narrowed to 46-40. As I’ve been telling you, both sides expect this race to tighten considerably, because Ohio is a true battleground state, which is why outside groups on the right have been pouring massive sums into the contest, which could be pivotal to control of the Senate.
* More (gulp!) encouraging news on the economy? Jobless claims are back to falling a bit, and Steve Benen has it in chart form.
* And GOP divided over “fast and furious” story: Interesting: House GOP leaders are quietly trying to slow down or stop Darrell Issa’s drive to hold Attorney General in contempt over the gun running story. It isn’t clear whether they think it’s bad politics in an election year or that Issa just doesn’t have the goods.
But either way, the move will infuriate conservatives who hate Holder for a variety of reasons, and are perhaps less than focused on whether Republicans have the good on Holder or not.