You can tell a lot about candidates by how they react when they don’t get their way. None of the Republican 2016 presidential contenders is pleased with the Supreme Court’s result. None of them supports same-sex marriage. But the differences are striking, surprising and telling.
There were the classy, restrained statements.
Rick Perry declared, “I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I’m a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue. I fundamentally disagree with the court rewriting the law and assaulting the 10th Amendment. Our founding fathers did not intend for the judicial branch to legislate from the bench, and as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had a statement, which read in part: “I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman. People who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage have the right to change their state laws. That is the right of our people, not the right of the unelected judges or justices of the Supreme Court. This decision short-circuits the political process that has been underway on the state level for years. While I disagree with this decision, we live in a republic and must abide by the law. As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood. . . . I firmly believe the question of same sex marriage is a question of the definition of an institution, not the dignity of a human being. Every American has the right to pursue happiness as they see fit. Not every American has to agree on every issue, but all of us do have to share our country. A large number of Americans will continue to believe in traditional marriage, and a large number of Americans will be pleased with the Court’s decision today. In the years ahead, it is my hope that each side will respect the dignity of the other.”
Jeb Bush‘s statement put it this way: “Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side. It is now crucial that as a country we protect religious freedom and the right of conscience and also not discriminate.”
The most surprising in this “category” was Dr. Ben Carson who had this dignified reaction: “While I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, their ruling is now the law of the land. I call on Congress to make sure deeply held religious views are respected and protected. The government must never force Christians to violate their religious beliefs.”
Carly Fiorina‘s statement was lengthy, but in essence argued, “I believe that responsibility should have remained with states and voters where this conversation has continued in churches, town halls and living rooms around the country. Moving forward, however, all of our effort should be focused on protecting the religious liberties and freedom of conscience for those Americans that profoundly disagree with today’s decision. The Court did not and could not end this debate today. Let us continue to show tolerance for those whose opinions and sincerely held beliefs differ from our own. We must lead by example, finding a way to respect one another and to celebrate a culture that protects religious freedom while promoting equality under the law.”
Both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made brief statements expressing disappointment but indicating the ruling was the law of the land and it was time to move on.
Then there were the unhinged responses.
As one would expect, Mike Huckabee bellowed, “The only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny. . . .Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court. If accepted by Congress and this President, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment.” It was, in short, shameful and incendiary, further proof, if not already evident, he has no business holding public office.
Rick Santorum preached defiance as well. “The Court is one of three co-equal branches of government and, just as they have in cases from Dred Scott to Plessy, the Court has an imperfect track record. The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to five unaccountable justices.” Again, incitement to lawlessness should be a disqualifier for office.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal did not go that far, settling for being vague on the remedy but taking victimhood to new heights (lows): “The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that. This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.” Actually, it will do no such thing, and Justice Kennedy specifically included religious liberty is protected by the First Amendment.”
Most unexpected was the reaction of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who in last year’s reelection campaign took as the law of the land the 7th Circuit ruling striking down the gay marriage ban. He has repeatedly stated that social issues should not distract Republicans and specifically threw cold water on the idea of a Constitutional amendment. But today, he genuflected to social conservatives, suggesting an (unattainable) Constitutional amendment is the way to go: “As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.” He then immediately suggests this in unlikely to happen, “Recognizing that our Founders made our Constitution difficult to amend, I am reminded that it was first amended to protect our ‘First Freedom’ — the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment does not simply protect a narrow ‘right to worship,’ but provides broad protection to individuals and institutions to worship and act in accordance with their religious beliefs. In fact, the Wisconsin constitution explicitly protects the rights of conscience of our citizens. I can assure all Wisconsinites concerned about the impact of today’s decision that your conscience rights will be protected, and the government will not coerce you to act against your religious beliefs.” But Kennedy, once again, said just that in the opinion.
Walker obviously is concerned about challenges from his right. (His hesitation on the Confederate flag controversy demonstrated this as well.) But does he fear competition from Jindal or Huckabee in Iowa? He could have very well adopted Carson’s restrained tone. Instead, Walker went for the base-pleasing play and alarmist tone. This is not the first time he has been seen as shifting right. On immigration reform, he has acknowledged changing his mind. (He also got tangled up on the ethanol issue, certainly not the first pol to bow to Iowa farmers.) The danger is that he takes himself out of the mainstream of the party, offends donors and puts him in the lane with the less widely acceptable candidates. Alternatively, he risks being labeled as a Mitt Romney type. He, too, was a governor in a blue state, moderate on social issues, who in his first try for the president came out as a rabid social conservative. It did not work.