A lot has been said about the family feud between the Cheney sisters, but few pundits have framed the dynamic involved more conciselythan commentator Joy Reid did on MSNBC yesterday, which I will get to shortly.
The Cheney feud features the ferocious heterosexual Liz, who is trying to get into the U.S. Senate by slandering a fellow conservative in Wyoming, and her non-heterosexual sister Mary. Being a darling of the rabid Tea Party right, and obviously wanting to become a national political figure, Liz finds it necessary to make sure every zealot in the country, especially in the Wyoming electorate, knows that just because her sister Mary is happily married to a woman, ol’ Liz won’t bless the matrimony with her public approval. “I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage,” she told the Republican Party News Channel, where she often appears as a political commentator.
Of course Liz is playing to the zealots here. We all know that. But why? Why would she feel the need to do that, when the country is obviously evolving on the gay marriage issue? That’s where Joy Reid got it right on MSNBC. Her simple remark was that Liz Cheney and other Tea Party Republicans “cannot afford to let go of the religious right because their base is shrinking so quickly.” That’s it. The base of the party is shrinking, and Republicans believe they have to hold on to the one loyal group who will not abandon them, so long as they remain true to so-called biblical values.
Remember that most (about 90%) of Mitt Romney’s votes came from white folks and that white evangelicals represented about 23% of the 2012 electorate, giving Romney 79% of their vote. And remember that about 40% of the GOP base comprises white evangelicals. Thus, conservative Bible thumpers are the last refuge of Republican candidates. They feel they have to go there in order to win. They don’t think they can afford to irk them. They believe they have to cozy up, at least rhetorically, to those with Iron Age sensibilities or else they will never again win another national election. (I am ignoring the fact that many, many Republican candidates are genuine Bible-thumpers themselves and mean every word they say in condemnation of homosexuality.)
Consider what Ron Brownstein wrote recently:
In 2012, President Obama lost white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in U.S. history. In his reelection, Obama lost ground from 2008 with almost every conceivable segment of the white electorate. With several key groups of whites, he recorded the weakest national performance for any Democratic nominee since the Republican landslides of the 1980s.
In 2012, Obama won a smaller share of white Catholics than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1980; lost groups ranging from white seniors to white women to white married and blue-collar men by the widest margin of any Democrat since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984; and even lost among Democratic-leaning college-educated women by the widest margin since Michael Dukakis in 1988, according to the latest National Journal analysis of the trends that shape the allegiances of American voters.
Yet, Obama won the election. He got a mere 39% of the white vote and he won. And, as Brownstein put it, he “won fairly comfortably.” We all know, of course, the biggest reason why Obama won. He trounced Romney among minority voters, getting the nod from 93% of blacks, 71% of Hispanics, and 73% of Asians. And we all know that the browning of America, which fills white conservatives with a disturbing angst, is inexorably proceeding—“Census: More minority U.S. births than white now”—and we all know that the Tea Party message has not and will not appeal all that much to non-whites. But there are some conservatives out there, as Brownstein points out, who,
insist that Republicans, by improving both turnout and already-gaping margins among whites, can recapture the White House in 2016 without reformulating their agenda to attract more minority voters…
Yes, believe it or not, serious number-crunchers writing for conservative websites believe that if only more white folks would show up and vote, the Republicans wouldn’t have to change a damn thing! Thus, there are a lot of Republican candidates who believe they cannot afford to turn off a single white evangelical and that is why we have Liz Cheney publicly dissing her gay sister’s marriage.
Now, there is a lot wrong with Liz Cheney (as her appearance on Fox News Sunday demonstrated), but I am sure she loves her sister. She cares about her. And presumably she knows that her sister Mary and her wife are not really sinners condemned by God. But she dare not say so in front of conservative evangelicals, one of the legs that holds up a teetering Republican Party. She dare not say it to people who believe that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a sin that will send you straight to hell without passing go or collecting money from the Koch brothers.
The dilemma for Republicans going forward is that appealing to the sensibilities of Bible extremists turns off a goodly number of voters. And Republicans might want to consider this graphic from Brownstein’s article:
Yikes. That’s a pretty big jump. As the Pew Research Center also found out about those unaffiliated voters:
Yikes, again. The trend is toward more religiously unaffiliated voters and those voters are almost twice as likely to be liberals as conservatives.
Maybe Liz ought to apologize to her sister.