With the GOP presidential hopefuls trooping to Iowa this weekend to march to the drum of anti-“amnesty” warrior Steve King, the focus is now on the very real differences between the potential candidates on issues from immigration to Iran to gay marriage.

The GOP hopefuls are already engaged in a delicate dance on marriage equality, as they seek to position themselves in advance to navigate the fallout from a potential Supreme Court decision this spring that could declare a Constitutionally protected right to gay marriage across the county.

CNN has a good overview of the jockeying underway among the GOP candidates in advance of this decision. Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush are calling for respect for the courts’ decisions on this matter and/or respect and understanding for people on both sides of the issue.

But Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are suggesting continued resistance; both have talked about a Constitutional marriage amendment. Mike Huckabee has said states should not be bound by such a decision, and on Meet the Press yesterday, he seemed to stick by that position.

I don’t have any idea whether these anti-marriage-equality warriors are serious about their hints at keeping up the fight in the context of the coming GOP primaries or not. But the polling does point to an emerging divide among Republicans on this question that seems revelant to how all of this might unfold.

A Washington Post poll last spring found that Republicans are all alone in opposing legal gay marriage, by 54-40. And they also don’t believe the “equal protection” clause guarantees the legal right to marry by 54-38. Majorities of independents and moderates are in the Yes camp on both.

The religious breakdown is key. White evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage, by 66-28. By contrast, white non-evangelical Protestants support it by 62-27, and white Catholics support it by 70-26. Evangelicals, of course, are important in GOP primaries; indeed, Huckabee has explicitly warned that if the GOP embraces gay marriage, “they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk.”

There’s also a Tea Party angle here. The Post poll found that Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who support the Tea Party oppose gay marriage by 54-38. By contrast, non-Tea Party Republicans and GOP-leaners support gay marriage by 57-36. Tea Party Republicans are often described as more libertarian-leaning on social issues than other segments of the GOP base (such as evangelicals), but a majority of them still opposes same-sex marriage.

Candidates who are striving for (relative) moderation on gay marriage, such as Bush, Rubio, and Romney, are framing their position as rooted in conservative values: Respect for the rule of law and/or for those (even gays and lesbians) who want to enshrine lifetime commitments to one another. Will that assuage GOP primary voters? Perhaps, as Ross Douthat has suggested, continued resistance wouldn’t gain any traction among Republican primary voters in any case, largely because even many religious conservatives think this cultural battle is already lost. But if opposition to marriage equality does indeed remain deep among evangelicals, it could prove a tempting exploitation target indeed for the likes of Cruz and Jindal.


* GOP CANDIDATES — JEB BUSH EXCEPTED — MARCH IN STEVE KING’S PARADE: Jon Ward has a good overview of the Steve King event, which he aptly contrasts with Jeb Bush’s latest comments on immigration, in which Bush suggested “a path to legalized status for those who have come here and languished in the shadows”:

“There is no way they are going to be deported,” Bush said. “No one is suggesting an organized effort to do that. The cost would be extraordinary. We need to find a way where they pay fines, they learn English, they work, and they get in the back of the line. But they come out of the shadows so that they can be full partners in this strategy of high economic growth.”

That’s basically a call for legalization. It’s unclear whether Bush envisions that precluding citizenship, but this nonetheless shows that Bush’s presence in the race will constitute a challenge to Republicans as to whether they are willing to accept legalization in any form. Good luck with this one, Jeb!

This is the new culture war. It is about national identity rather than religion and “transcendent authority.” It focuses on which groups the United States will formally admit to residence and citizenship. It asks the same question as the old culture war: “Who are we?”…The new question is about how we define ourselves ethnically, racially and linguistically.

With Hillary Clinton embracing Obama’s executive deportation relief, even as the GOP moves ever more towards a maximum deportations stance, hopefully the larger questions at the heart of our policy dilemma over the undocumented will get a full airing out in the 2016 race.

* BILL CLINTON SEES JEB BUSH AS THREAT: Politico reports on the thinking inside Hillary Clinton’s evolving presidential campaign. This is the most interesting nugget:

Bill Clinton is already deeply engaged in the campaign, warning that Jeb Bush is a real threat, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is probably just a sideshow.

Of course, he’s got to get through the primaries first, what with his suggestions that the plight of the undocumented should be viewed as morally complex and that we should respect gay people who want to marry one another.

* GOP CANDIDATES AT ODDS OVER IRAN: ABC News reports on a separate candidate forum that took place over the weekend, at which Cruz and Rubio talked mighty tough about how negotiating with Iran is complete folly. But Rand Paul dissented:

“They’re saying you want 535 negotiators, not the president,” said Paul, R-Kentucky. “Diplomacy is better than war, and we should give diplomacy a chance.”…Paul suggested that his colleagues would put the United States on a path to war. “Many times in our fear and anger and distrust and we want to – you know, what are we going to do?” said Paul. “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb ‘em? Are you ready to send 100,000 troops?”

And Paul’s chances in the GOP primaries have now gone “poof.”

* SCOTUS DECISION COULD ‘CRIPPLE’ OBAMACARE: National Journal has a good overview of what could happen if the Supreme Court guts subsidies in three dozen states on the federal exchange: Congress is unlikely to do anything, and there is little the White House can do to make it more likely that GOP state lawmakers set up their own exchanges to keep subsidies flowing. The question is whether the consequences — millions losing health coverage; widespread disruptions in insurance markets — will weigh on the Justices.

* BUT REPUBLICANS VOW A ‘FIX.’ NO, REALLY! SERIOUSLY!!!! GOP Senate leader John Barrasso tells Philip Klein in an interview that if SCOTUS does gut subsidies, Republicans will have a “fix” ready to go to help the millions who might lose coverage:

“We are working on a transition plan from what the President’s health care law is now, that does provide for those people who are getting subsidies and would possibly be abruptly cut off, as we transition to a more market-based health care plan,” he said.

Some conservatives, such as Klein, genuinely want Republicans to respond with their own alternative if SCOTUS does rule with the challengers. But maybe, just maybe, Congressional Republicans are floating the idea that they’ll have a “fix” ready to go to make the consequences of such a ruling appear less dire.