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GOP Remains (Mostly) Silent on Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Move

We didn’t hear a peep about the Supreme Court’s (non)-decision on the 2014 campaign trail.
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GOP remains (mostly) silent on Supreme Court’s gay-marriage move

To see how the politics of gay marriage has changed in this country in 11 years, revisit this Nov. 19, 2003 New York Times piece after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the state: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay denounced what he said was a “runaway judiciary”; the Republican National Committee said the decision “could be an issue” in the upcoming presidential contest; and an aide to a Democratic presidential candidate predicted the subject “is going to come up again and again.” And, well, in 2004, a strong argument can be made that the gay marriage bans that showed up on swing state ballots that year did have an impact on the ’04 race. But fast forward 11 years later: After the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday decided not to review gay-marriage cases, effectively making it legal in a handful of additional states, Republicans were mostly silent. None of the top House GOP leaders (Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy) issued statements. Ditto the RNC. And most strikingly, we didn’t hear a peep about the Supreme Court’s (non)-decision on the 2014 campaign trail, including in the red-state battlegrounds. Perhaps the biggest exception to this silence was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who sharply criticized the Supreme Court. “By refusing to rule if the states can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution,” he said in a statement, per Politico. “This is judicial activism at its worst.” But here is the bottom line: We’re now four weeks out from a national election and this isn’t going to be an issue anywhere. Can anyone find a single race where same-sex marriage will be a decider?

Yet issue could come up in the 2016 race

But in the physics of politics, every action produces an equal and opposite reaction, and it’s quite possible that same-sex marriage could show up in the 2016 GOP presidential race. Indeed, while Republican politicians were mostly silent, key social conservative groups weren’t. Here was Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition: “[Monday]’s decision further insures that the marriage issue will motivate and mobilize voters of faith who are concerned about marriage and deeply resent having the institution redefined contrary to the clearly expressed will of the people by federal judges who legislate from the bench. For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue.” Remember, all it takes is for one or two GOP candidates -- say Ted Cruz -- to champion the cause and force his fellow candidates to take a position on the issue. There are many leaders in the evangelical movement who are frustrated at how silent the national party has been on social issues in general, not just marriage, but abortion too. And in early states like Iowa and South Carolina, don’t be surprised if a candidate can seize on this and gain traction. It’s worth pointing out that our April 2013 NBC/WSJ poll found 66% of Republicans opposing gay marriage, compared with 53% of all Americans supporting it.

Et Tu, Leon?

Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s new book is handing fodder to President Obama’s critics. “Typically frank, occasionally feisty and finally free of the constraints of clearing opinions with the White House, Mr. Panetta is re-emerging with a blunt account of his time in the Obama administration. In a new memoir to be published on Tuesday, Mr. Panetta draws a largely respectful portrait of a president who made important progress and follows a ‘well-reasoned vision for the country’ but too often ‘avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities,’” as the New York Times puts it. “Mr. Panetta, who was C.I.A. director before taking over the Pentagon, recounted decisions that he disagreed with, including the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq in 2011, the failure to intervene in Syria’s civil war by arming rebels and the abrupt reversal of Mr. Obama’s decision to strike Syria in retaliation for using chemical weapons on civilians. Mr. Obama ‘vacillated’ over the Syria strike and ‘by failing to respond, it sent the wrong message to the world,’ he wrote.” Interestingly, we now have a trio of books, Panetta, Gates, and (to a lesser extent) Clinton, who collectively represent Washington’s foreign policy bipartisan (non-neo-con) consensus establishment, a consensus that Obama has always believed he was elected to challenge. All three clearly believe the president erred in his initial handling of Syria. And given what the president is going now, policy wise, one could argue, the president now agrees with their critiques, or at least he NOW agrees with their preferred course of action. Of course, all of these critiques tip-toe around the central debate that historians will continue for years: the initial handling (and mis-calculation?) of the impact of the Arab Spring. By the way, here is one unintended consequence to keep an eye on regarding these tell-all books from Panetta and Gates: you’ll probably see future presidents resist appointing a “team of rivals” to the cabinet, because they may believe that it will result in critical books after their service in the cabinet. Not surprisingly, Obama’s second-term cabinet has consisted mostly of loyalists -- not rivals.

Biden’s blunders don’t help him in the 2016 talk

Speaking of foreign policy, don’t miss this Associated Press piece on Vice President Joe Biden. “Twice in two days, Biden had to apologize to key U.S. allies in the fight against Islamic State militants after accusing the allies of arming and funding al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria. Not only did his comments threaten to jeopardize President Barack Obama's fragile coalition, they also put the White House on the defensive, forced to clean up for Biden without specifically rebutting what he said. As Biden seeks to fashion himself as a credible alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, his latest missteps have rekindled lingering questions about his ability to serve as commander in chief. After all, voters who affectionately overlook a bit of misplaced candor may be less thrilled by the prospect of a president who has trouble differentiating between what he says in public and in private.” Ouch.

Is Kansas slipping away from the GOP?

As our NBC/Marist poll -- and others before it -- showed, the Pat Roberts-vs.-Greg Orman Senate race is teetering on the edge of being over. So much harder for an incumbent to come back in October even from low single digits than it is for a challenger. And so far, the GOP money cavalry hasn’t come to the rescue. Are outside groups simply caught off guard? Unsure of how to help? Or done? Our poll showed that Orman is winning one in five Brownback voters, and that explains why Ted Cruz will be campaigning with Roberts on Thursday. Roberts, unlike Brownback, has a base problem. And that’s something folks need to understand, Roberts’ problems are NOT the same as Brownback’s problems.

And is Kentucky still in play?

A robo-poll showing Alison Lundergan Grimes ahead in Kentucky’s Senate race got plenty of attention yesterday -- mainly because it differed with most of the public polling from a few weeks ago showing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with the clear lead. While it’s just one poll (although Grimes’ own internals also had her up), you get the feeling that the race is more competitive than the C.W. suggested a month ago. And it all comes as the McConnell campaign is trying -- maybe a little too hard -- to make the case that the race is over. Seems like it’s time for one more good live-caller poll to get a better gauge of the race.

Debate Night in Virginia: Warner vs. Gillespie

One of your authors moderates a debate tonight in Northern Virginia between incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and GOP challenger Ed Gillespie. A new Watson Center poll by Christopher Newport University finds Warner ahead by 12 points among likely voters, 51%-39%. So, yes, all of the polling shows Warner with a comfortable lead, but Republicans are banking that a bigger-than-expected GOP wave crashes down in Virginia, making the race more competitive. The debate, which will broadcast live on NBC Washington and other NBC affiliates in the state, also features Julie Carey and Aaron Gilchrist of NBC Washington and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post.

Midterm money news

North Carolina Senate candidate Kay Hagan raised nearly $4.9 million in the third quarter and will report almost $2 million cash on hand, the campaign tells NBC News. Hagan, who narrowly leads GOP contender Thom Tillis, has consistently bested him in fundraising. Meanwhile, A Republican in another super competitive race can also boast a big number today -- Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado has raised about $4.4 million this quarter.

First Read’s Race of the Day: NY-1: Bishop vs. Zeldin

In 2008, with a Democratic presidential candidate at the top of the ticket, Rep. Tim Bishop bested challenger Lee Zeldin in this eastern Long Island district. Two years later, when the Tea Party wave swept out many of his fellow freshmen, Bishop barely held on to his seat. Zeldin won a contested primary in June – aided by big-dollar hedge fund head donor Robert Mercer – and now he’s angling for a more competitive rematch. He would be the House’s only Jewish Republican, following the defeat of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Countdown to Election Day: 28 days

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